Elk, deer remain elusive through third big-game season
Hunters may remember this latest big-game season as a season of two seasons.
When the third installment of the 2010 big-game season ended at dusk Sunday, hunters had to weather yet another winter storm warning to get out of the hills.
In contrast, at the beginning of the nine-day season hunters were dealing with 60-degree days and faint prospects of using those new snow tires.
The mix of weather was enough to change hunting strategies several times and hunters lucky or prescient enough to be in the right places were able to fill their licenses.
But elsewhere, the tales continued of not quite being in the right place.
“I think it was the fewest amount of animals I’ve ever seen,” said Grand Junction taxidermist Darryl Powell after a fruitless third-season quest for a mule deer buck.
Powell hunts and haunts the transition zones skirting the top of Grand Mesa, that area of mixed stands of aspen-spruce forest and thickets of oak brush, typically the very place you’d expect to find animals dodging the snow and the hunting pressure from higher up.
But this year that prime hunting area was strangely quiet, devoid of the bigger bucks Powell usually expects to see skulking around, waiting for the rut to start.
“We glassed huge amounts of country but just didn’t see the animals like I wanted,” said Powell, owner of Darryl’s Taxidermy (243-2933). “I saw some smaller three-point bucks which were nice but not the big boys I was looking for.”
Reports from the White River and Bears Ears areas told similar tales and adding to the confusion were the storms might have been enough to get some elk moving to lower elevations.
Hunting success in the northwest quadrant was spotty this past season, and there are indications elk already are starting to move off private land toward winter range in the sagebrush country farther west.
“It was sort of hit or miss depending on where the elk had moved to after that second-season storm,” said Darby Finley, terrestrial biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Meeker.
Finley said hunters on the Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area east of Meeker did well during the first part of the season as some elk had moved there from adjacent public and private land.
“Other than that, I haven’t heard from a lot of hunters getting into elk on the forest,” he said. “Most of my (radio-collared elk) are on private ground” where hunting is tightly controlled.
“Guys are still killing elk on the forest, but from what my collars are telling me, we have a lot of elk that don’t even summer on the forest anymore,” Finley said.
Kim Cornelius, a meat wrapper at the Stage Stop Meat Market in Meeker, said hunters have kept their business steady this past season.
“We’ve been doing really good, and we’re expecting more in today,” Cornelius said Monday. “It’s been a little slower than past years but nothing bad.”
Finley said he’s heard from guides around the Bears Ears north of Steamboat Springs that some elk already are heading to historic winter ranges west of Colorado Highway 13.
“They said they’ve been seeing some early movement the last two or three years,” Finley said. “I’m not sure why but there’s an indication that it’s not the amount of snow but rather the frequency of the storms that gets the elk to start moving.”
Reports from the southwest told similar tales of scattered elk and spotty success.
Hunters heading out for the fourth and last combined season, which runs today through Sunday, will have the remnants of the weekend storm plus new snow expected this week in the high country.