It has been tougher to harvest deer and elk this year due to the weather, but hunters who have headed to the mountains to chase bruins have had an unusual amount of success statewide.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) is reporting a low elk and deer harvest across the state during the second big game rifle season. According to the DOW, the low numbers of hunters, dry conditions and warm temperatures are contributing factors to the low harvest of deer and elk.
The only hunters around the state who aren't complaining about conditions are the ones with bear licenses. While the warm weather has made it tough for deer and elk hunters, it has benefited bear hunters throughout Colorado. According to Gene Byrne, area wildlife biologist in Glenwood Springs, the bear harvest this year is up more than 50 percent from last year.
"We checked 50 bears in the Glenwood Springs office since opening day of the fall bear seasons," said Byrne. "Many of the bears have been very large, 300 to 500-plus pounds."
Kate Meyer, with the DOW terrestrial office, said so far she has recorded 647 bears harvested across Colorado compared to 553 bears taken in 1998. The last time Colorado hunters killed more than 600 bears was in 1988 when 625 were harvested.
People hunting in Northwest Colorado are also reporting bear encounters. Chris Comstock, information officer at the Craig Chamber of Commerce, has been hearing from groups of hunters about bears. According to Comstock, many hunters have reported bear sightings and have harvested bears in the high country in and surrounding Routt National Forest.
"They're still around," said Comstock. "In fact we have been suggesting to camps that they keep their food covered or out of reach from the bears. We have even had two reports of bears getting to deer and elk carcasses before the hunters have."
According to DOW biologists, the warm conditions and ample forage are making the bears more susceptible to hunters because bears will take longer to prepare for winter hibernation. The bears will be more active longer into the fall since there is no incentive for the bears to go into hibernation. During a normal year the bear harvest tapers off in October, but because food sources are still available bears aren't going into hibernation and hunters are harvesting bears much later than expected.
DOW biologists do not know the exact population of black bears in Colorado. Population estimates range from 8,000 to 12,000 bears. In 1998 there were 10,212 hunters with a license to hunt bears.
According to John Ellenberger, DOW statewide big game manager, the bear harvest numbers are almost at the point they were when the state offered a spring bear hunt.
"This shows that hunters may be learning how to hunt bears in the fall, and because the animals are in good shape coming out of a summer with plenty of forage there's an incentive to harvest bears in the fall," said Ellenberger.