Trouble shooting: Youth late-season hunt changes limit pressure on elk
A late-season elk hunting program for young hunters has proven almost too successful.
For the past 11 years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has made it possible for hunters between 12 and 17 who didn’t fill their cow or either-sex elk tags during the regular season to hunt cow elk anywhere in the state where a late season is scheduled.
Hunters holding an unfilled bull elk license are not eligible.
The program was designed to encourage youth participation in big-game hunting and to help control over-populous elk herds.
Because late-season hunts can have a high success rate, the hunts proved quite popular and achieved the goal of attracting young hunters.
However, with no restriction on where the youth did their late-season hunting, a curious problem arose: Several popular and elk-rich areas, specifically the Flat Tops north to Craig, Meeker and Steamboat Springs, got hit pretty hard, resulting in the concern that elk herds in those areas might be getting over-harvested.
Changes this year in the late-season youth program limit youth hunters in some units, a move to more-evenly distribute late-season hunting pressure.
“When we were over our elk population objective, we committed to landowners that we would develop innovative ways of reducing elk numbers and elk conflict,” said Ron Velarde, regional manager for northwest Colorado. “We’ve accomplished that and we found a great way to encourage youth participation. Now that we’re getting close to population objectives, we want to be sure these young hunters have a quality experience in the field if they take advantage of these late hunts.”
Neither the potential for too many hunters nor the elk harvest is reason alone for the change, but taken together they needed to be addressed, said Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
“It’s a harvest issue, not a safety issue,” Hampton said. “When we offered the program, everyone looked to the Craig and White River areas because that’s where we had a lot of elk. But a decade later and as we got closer to objectives, those areas can’t sustain that much of a late harvest.
“As it was under the former regulation, there was no way to control that.”
Hampton stressed Parks and Wildlife never considered ending the late-season hunts.
“The ultimate benefits of that program far outweigh any concerns we might have and so we are not backing off the youth late-season elk licenses,” Hampton said. “We want to make sure it’s still an effective program, still providing a good distribution of hunters and getting people, particularly young hunters, into the field.”
In brief, most of the state remains open to all youth; however, late-season hunts in parts of the White River/Flat Tops area and the Craig/Bears Ears area will be limited to youths already holding an unfilled regular season license for those areas.
“The state is basically divided into three sections, and if your original elk tag wasn’t for one of those (two restricted) sections, you can’t hunt late-season in that section,” Hampton explained.
For example, youths holding a regular-season license for unit 24 can late-season hunt there or in any unit with a late hunt except for units in the Craig/Bears Ears limited area.
But if you hold an unfilled regular season cow elk tag for unit 44 on Grand Mesa, you won’t be eligible to hunt late season in either restricted area.
You still can hunt in any other unit statewide holding a late-season hunt.
The changes are detailed in the 2012 Big-Game Hunting Brochure, which includes a map of the restricted areas.
“These changes aren’t meant to discourage youth hunters,” Hampton said. “On the contrary, we want to make sure these young hunters have a successful and positive experience, along with us getting a hand on the late-season elk harvest.”
Parks and Wildlife has hunt planners available again this year to help with license application questions or areas to hunt. Hunt planners can be reached 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 303-291-7526.