Mild winters + more deer = more licenses for Gunnison Basin

After a series of mild winters in the Gunnison Basin have allowed deer numbers to grow, buck deer licenses will see an increase this fall for the five game-management units in the area. Photo by Don Zippert/Special to The Sentinel

A series of mild winters has allowed mule deer herds in the Gunnison Basin to recover enough to offer more hunting opportunity this fall.

A story that appeared in Wednesday’s Gunnison Country Times quoted Colorado Parks and Wildlife terrestrial biologist Brandon Diamond as saying herd health across the basin continues to improve.

“Pretty much across the Gunnison Basin, we’re within our sex-ratio objectives,” Brandon told a public meeting in Gunnison to discuss proposed deer and elk hunting-license numbers for this fall. “That will provide us with a little more hunting opportunity coming up here.”

The Gunnison Basin consists of five game management units: 54, 55, 551, 66 and 67.

Deer numbers in the area and across much of western Colorado stumbled during the harsh winter of 2007-08. That year, the Gunnison Basin was particularly hard-hit, and wildlife managers undertook an emergency feeding program for deer.

At one time, Parks and Wildlife was feeding an estimated 9,100, about half the total deer population in the basin.

However, despite the collective efforts of more than 100 volunteers and Parks and Wildlife employees, many deer herds were decimated by the cold and stress. In response, deer licenses in the Gunnison Basin were reduced significantly, in some areas by half.

But this is now, and the winters lately have been surprisingly mild, which means more deer survive and more fawns are produced.

With the herds growing, game managers decided to increase the numbers of hunting licenses for bucks and does.

In a hunting option to be presented in May to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, wildlife managers are proposing an 11 percent average jump in buck license numbers across the five units, with the highest, an 18 percent increase, in unit 67.

Also, this year, for the first time since 2007-08, managers are seeking an increase in doe deer tags for the southern portion of the basin. They will ask the commission to approve 140 doe licenses for the second and third rifle seasons in units 66 and 67.

Elk numbers for the Gunnison Basin continue to be above desired levels, although several years of generous license allocations have caused those numbers to drop.

Although elk license numbers for units 55, 551, 66 and 67 will stay at current levels, hunters in unit 54 should be ready to see the end of the liberal, multi-license opportunities of past years, said Gunnison Parks and Wildlife Area Manager J Wenum.

“We can’t continue to drive that herd down at the rate we have in the past couple of years,” Wenum told the Gunnison Country Times.

He said if elk numbers continue to fall, Parks and Wildlife might hear the elk aren’t numerous enough, and they are hard for hunters to find.

Hunters headed to unit 54 will see a 7 percent decrease in cow elk licenses for private land and late-season hunts, pending commission approval in May.

The commission meets
April 11-12 at the Inn of the Rio Grande in Alamosa.

The May commission meeting is set for May 9-10 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Grand Junction.


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