OUT: Lots of elk mean lots of opportunity
GUNNISON — With elk bugling day and night in the dark forests around the Gunnison Basin, there’s little opportunity for a hunter to sleep.
Which is fine. You can sleep when the season’s over.
“Yeah, they’re pretty active right now,” said Jeff Oulton, a district wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “It seems I hear them every time I go outside.”
Oulton patrols the area north and west of Gunnison between U.S. Highway 50 and the Kebler Pass road. He says elk hunters will be pleasantly surprised after last winter’s hard cold and deep snow.
“We have a pretty good calf crop this year and I think a lot of elk are going to be available for hunters,” said Oulton, reminding this reporter of the resilience of elk to survive even the hardest winter.
“They did really well, especially the ones that made it to where we were feeding them, ”Oulton said.
The division officially wasn’t feeding elk in the Gunnison Basin, merely baiting them away from ranchers’ haystacks.
But to an elk, a hay bale is a hay bale is a hay bale.
So plentiful are elk in parts of western Colorado that some areas are offering either sex-elk licenses for all four rifle seasons.
“This is the first time we’ve had either-sex tags for all four seasons and it will be interesting to see what the harvest is,” Oulton said.
Hunters have made either-sex tags the license of choice in many areas, where they sell out early. But with wildlife managers offering more cow licenses in an ongoing effort to reduce the state’s elk herds, this year there are some either-sex tags remaining as leftover licenses.
“I think hunters are feeling the pinch of the economy, too, and are hunting closer to home,” Oulton offered as one possibility. “But usually these tags go first.”
He said in previous years hunters holding an either-sex license, which allows them to kill either a bull or a cow elk, have just about split the harvest evenly.
“But for some reason, a lot of hunters no longer want to kill a cow,” Oulton said. “All they want is a bull.
I’d rather shoot and eat a cow elk any day.”
The first rifle season, limited to elk only, runs Oct. 11- 15. The combined deer and elk rifle seasons will be Oct. 18-26, Nov. 1-7 and Nov. 12-16.
With mild weather forecast through early next week, don’t expect to find elk on the move. Hunting pressure might chase elk higher into the mountains and deeper into the black timber, but only weather will push them from the summer ranges.
“The late-season grasses are just coming on, so I don’t expect the elk to move down anytime soon,”
Oulton said. “Right now, they’re scattered across the forest. All the places holding elk now should hold them until weather and snow pushes them out of the high country.”