Hunters have mixed success in first season
Mid-October finds many Colorado sportsmen entranced by elk, a relationship that’s all too often a one-sided affair until Mother Nature decides to intrude.
Wildlife managers might create numerous opportunities to get man and beast together but rarely does much happen without a winter storm or two putting pressure on big-game herds to leave one range (summer) and get within another range (rifle).
That’s apparently the scenario in the first combined deer and elk rifle season, which began on Oct. 17 and concludes tonight at 30 minutes past sunset.
Hunting reports across the Western Slope tell of mixed success in the opening days of this nine-day season, a story that changed somewhat once a slow-moving winter storm dropped up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado’s mountains.
“The first rifle (elk-only) season was good in terms of harvest but the second season started a little slow because the weekend was warm,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton of the Northwest Region. “The low pressure on Monday and Tuesday and the rain and snow at higher elevations helped the hunters considerably.”
DOW field officers reported checking plenty of elk during the post-storm week, with hunters in some local spots, including the Roan Plateau, Glade Park and the Douglas Pass areas, doing well.
“From many of the reports I’ve seen, hunters are getting into the elk,” Hampton reported.
But he cautioned it’s not everywhere, since there still are places where winter hasn’t touched and elk are hanging up in the higher elevations, making hunters work for their reward.
Speaking of hunters, Stan Wyatt of Wyatt’s Sports Center in Meeker said hunter numbers wandering through his store are well down compared to recent years.
“It’s been pretty slow,” said Wyatt, who keeps a sharp eye on the hunting and fishing conditions in northwest Colorado. “Our retail sales just about mirror our license sales and we’re down about 25 percent for the second season.”
He said the first season was close to average but since those hunters already purchased their tags online, he figured the true test would come with the second season and the sale of over-the-counter elk tags.
It’s these walk-up tags that are the true assessment of how many nonresident hunters can afford to make the trek to Colorado.
And sure enough, out-of-state hunters appear to be fewer this year.
“It’s my feeling is hunter numbers are down overall,” said Drayton Harrison, a District Wildlife Manager from Durango. “I’ve talked to some retailers in Durango and they said (license sales) were down about 10 percent.”
He said the first season seemed about average in terms of success and hunter numbers.
“The second season is pretty slow but it’s always slow,” Harrison said.
Wyatt agreed about the relative success of the first season.
“Our first season was about average and that’s all draw licenses and I think it gave us a false sense of hope,” Wyatt said. “I’ve been talking to my employees and we can’t remember it being this bad.”
It’s not only retailers taking a hit from an economy that has some parts of the country struggling, Wyatt said.
“I talk to a lot of the local outfitters and I heard it all summer long, that they were well down on their bookings,” Wyatt said.
Combine the lower-than-expected turnout with the higher-than-desired temperatures (Wyatt said the temperature reached 70 in Meeker last weekend) and this year’s harvest might be well below desired levels.
“I saw some better-quality bulls during the first season than I ever have, but unless we get some weather, my guess is the second season harvest is going to be down,” Wyatt said.
Gunnison flows staying steady — With irrigators in the Uncompahgre Valley reducing their demands for Gunnison River water, the Bureau of Reclamation has announced flows through the Black Canyon and the Gunnison Gorge will remain steady at around 500 cubic feet per second through November.
However, higher flows – up to 1,400 cfs – are expected for December as the Bureau responds to power demands on the Aspinall Unit dams and the agency tries to reach its winter elevation target at Blue Mesa Reservoir.
The target elevation of 7,490 feet (above sea level) must be met by Dec. 31 as part of an agreement with the National Park Service to prevent icing problems west of Gunnison.
The reservoir’s elevation as of Friday was 7,494 feet.