OUT: Sunday Column October 26, 2008
Second-season slump has fewer hunters, lighter harvest
Late last week, as big-game hunters jammed counters at license agents across the Western Slope, no one would have expected to hear complaints about under-crowding.
But the promise of a bountiful season may have come too early, as late-week reports indicate a first-season slump has dragged into the second.
Today is the final day of the first combined deer and elk season and it’s the season that traditionally brings out the hunters.
The lure of over-the-counter bull elk tags plus a surprising number of leftover limited deer licenses, many for some of the more-coveted game units, attracted the expected hordes marching on license offices from Craig to Durango.
‘We were jammed,” said Bill deVergie, The Division of Wildlife’s Meeker area manager, after a stint selling licenses at the Meeker office.
Similar reports came from Glenwood Springs, Gunnison and Durango as hunters clamored for the walk-up elk tags, a lure found only in Colorado.
However, “we’re down substantially from last year, and this season usually is our busiest,” said Matt Anderegg of Old World Meats in Grand Junction. “We’re even skinning animals this year, which we’ve never done.”
Anderegg usually posts a large sign near his loading dock warning hunters that animals must be skinned before he will take them.
This year, even an elk with its coat on is welcome.
“Anything to keep the animals coming in,” said Anderegg.
So where are the hunters?
They’ve been slow to show up in Meeker, said Jason Purkey, the third generation of Purkeys to greet hunters at the Purkey Packing Plant west of Meeker.
“I figure we’re about 10 percent down from last year,” said Purkey, who was taking a break from the attention-demanding slice-and-dice of meat processing.
He said he’s heard reports of fewer hunters as well as less game.
“I’m not sure what’s going on, I haven’t been out yet,” Purkey said. “I usually go out the third season. But we’re definitely a little slower than usual.”
DeVergie said plenty of hunters were seen in the White River area but the harvest is a bit down as the weather allows animals to hang out at higher elevations, away from most hunters.
“We had lots of camps this season but the harvest is a little slow,” said the veteran wildlife manager.
“They’re struggling a little with deer, but most of the deer we’ve seen are still way up high.”
Last week’s storm dropped a half-foot of snow, he said.
“For two days that helped but it’s gone now and it’s what, 60 degrees today?” he said.
This nine-day season usually brings out the majority of hunters, attracted by both the long season encompassing two weekends and the hope that the weather hasn’t taken a real turn toward winter.
If there are fewer hunters out there this season the reasons may well hinge on the cost of a tank of gas.
At least up to mid-week, that is, when motorists suddenly found themselves with change from that $50 bill which in recent times barely put a shudder in the gas gauge.
Reports from across the Western Slope indicate hunting pressure in general has taken a hit. Whether it’s hunters opting to stay closer to home or simply staying home altogether, there doesn’t seem to be as many hunters pushing the game around.
Anderegg talked to some hunters who regularly venture from the elk-free state of Florida but decided this year to cut down their participation.
“They’re usually out here every year and they said this year not as many of them will be coming out,” Anderegg said. “I think some of that’s got to be the economy.”
Maybe resident hunters are waiting for the third and fourth seasons, which traditionally have been dominated by in-state hunters who already have a hunt planned months or years in advance.
With the weather forecast to stay “seasonable” through the week, which means chilly but dry conditions, hunters waiting for Saturday’s start of the second combined deer and elk season again will be sky-watching, hoping for a sign if not an outright storm.