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Colorado DOW Comments on Low Success Rates During 2008 Season

January 2, 2009.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife posted the following information on their website regarding low hunter success during the 2008 season:

(Source: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/ as of January 2, 2009).

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is hearing questions lately about why fall hunting seasons saw lower than expected harvest in some places. Some hunters have suggested that last winter's high snowfall and extremely cold temperatures may have taken a heavy toll on the herds. Others seem to think that warm fall weather was to blame.

Warm weather was certainly a large factor. Fall temperatures were well above average, and snow fall was minimal during all seasons, meaning herds saw no reason to leave their traditional summer ranges and head for winter range. When the herds didn't migrate at the schedule, or into the areas hunters had grown accustom to over the past decade, some reliable hunting areas turned out to be vacant of big game. Animals weren't down low and weren’t headed for lower elevation and that meant hunters along those traditional migratory paths weren't seeing any animals.

Biologists and wildlife managers say big game dispersal may also have played a role in why hunters saw fewer animals. Hunters that headed for higher elevation in the hopes of finding the elk during the outbreak of unseasonable warm weather were more likely to be successful. But even some of those hunters said they saw fewer animals than in years past. That may be related to last winter's heavy snowfall which made water plentiful and forage bountiful across the high country. This past summer and fall there was waterand food available across the forested lands and high country, consequently animals were widely distributed and more difficult to locate.

In localized areas winterkill may have contributed to fewer big game animals; but winter mortality is likely a smaller factor than the warm weather, and the widely dispersed game, when it comes to why hunters might not have seen game. In the areas where biologists were aware of higher than average winter mule deer mortality last spring - like the Gunnison Basin and the Eagle Valley - they made dramatic reductions in available licenses.

Elk hunters may also have seen fewer elk as populations have been reduced to meet herd objectives. For several years elk populations in parts of northwest Colorado have been above the Division of Wildlife's management objectives. The agency has added seasons and issued plentiful licenses to reduce elk numbers and limit conflicts between elk and landowners. In response, elk harvest has increased and elk populations have declined. In some areas, elk hunters will continue to see fewer elk, and the number of available elk licenses will be reduced as herds reach objective levels.

Besides anecdotal information from hunters, the Division of Wildlife has three important processes in place that will help scientifically assess the health of big game herds. First, mule deer survival studies are taking place in the Piceance Basin, Uncompaghre Plateau, Middle Park, and a new study implemented this year in the Gunnison Plateau.  These studies provide individual animal survival data to better understand how animals are surviving through the winter and the cause of mortality for those that don't survive. Second, wildlife managers utilize helicopters to collect information on the age and sex of animals in the herd through February. This data helps inform biologists of the herd health across the state. Finally, annual hunter surveys are being conducted to determine harvest totals and to provide detailed information on if success was markedly lower and in what areas.

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