Rain, snow kept hunters working to find animals

This young buck was seen recently in a field near Collbran, lingering near a small herd of does ignoring his interest. Mule deer begin their mating season around Thanksgiving, and wildlife watchers use the time to spot and photograph less-wary buck deer.

You might forgive early season hunters this fall who forgot Colorado has been in an extended drought.

Rain and snow, and significant amounts of both, greeted the archery hunters in August and never really relented through the end of the final rifle season on Nov. 17.

“I had archery tags for deer and elk in a unit around Lake City but it rained most of the time,” recalled local bowhunter Denny Behrens, field representative for the Colorado Mule Deer Association. “I think we got two days of hunting out of the 30-day season.”

The refrain of rain and snow affected a lot of hunters this year, and it was both good and bad.

Snow makes hunting conditions difficult and sometimes miserable, and reaching favored hunting spots can be impossible.

But that same snow can move deer and elk out of their hiding spots and improve the hunter success.

“Archery season was the wettest fall we’ve had in 20-30 years up here in the Northwest,” said Bill deVergie, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area manager in Meeker.

“But we saw a lot of weather extremes this year. We had snow before the first (rifle) season started and that Sunday and Monday (of opening weekend) we had a foot of new snow.”

That kept a lot of hunters in camp, de Vergie said, but by the end of the week the temperatures were back up into the 50s.

Snow opens a new world for hunters, who suddenly can see who and what has been walking around the woods.

“That cooler weather and a little bit of snow in the higher elevations made it easier to track and maybe bunched up (the animals) a bit,” offered J Wenum, area manager for the Gunnison region. “We had pretty good first season for elk.”

Weather across the Western Slope moderated during the second season, and animals that may have started their migration to winter ranges appear to have done an about-face and headed right back into the dark timber for shade and protection.

“That warm weather made the elk head back into the woods and guys really had to hunt hard to find them,” de Vergie said.

Few hunters want to poke around in the heavy timber, even though they know that is perhaps their only chance to find elk when the weather is warm and the elk refuse to move.

“The other factor is here in the Gunnison Basin we had a really good summer” in terms of moisture, Wenum said. “Last year, we had three months without a drop of moisture and that made it super dry and it was tough hunting.”

But this year, elk and deer enjoyed an abundance of forage and water.

“There was food and water everywhere and at all elevations, so the animals didn’t have to look too hard for good conditions,” Wenum said. “Once they found a good place, if they weren’t being harassed by hunters, they didn’t leave.”

Ditto in the northwest, said deVergie.

“We saw a little difference in the elk distribution because we has such a wet and warm late August and September,” he said. “We were seeing green-up late in the growing season and that kept the elk and deer up high.”

Without the animals being pushed to lower elevations, hunters weren’t seeing elk in the expected places, deVergie said.

The second season was predominately warm and dry, which slowed the harvest, but some late weather started to move the elk in the northwest region, deVergie said.

“We started seeing more normal movement in the third season and by Thursday of that season the harvest started going up,” deVergie said. “But then it got back up to 50 or 60 degrees for five more days and it got real quiet.

“The fourth season was relatively slow for us.”

That third-season storm, de-
Vergie said, stressed all animals, both two- and four-legged.

“Most fourth-season hunters are pretty diligent and get into camp a few days early to set up and do some scouting,” he said. “So when that storm hit, they’d already been in camp for five days and I think the thought of fighting all that snow made a lot of them go home.”


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