Big game harvest falls short in 1999

Number of elk bagged in Colorado down 20,000 lowest in years

The 1999 hunting season was hard on hunters' dreams of harvesting elk, deer and antelope, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) big game harvest numbers.

The deer harvest statewide for rifle, archery and muzzleloader fell to 29,600 from 40,500 in 1998. Of these, 22,470 were bucks, down from 31,600 taken in 1998, the lowest number in 50 years.

The number of elk harvested was down by close to 20,000 animals. There were 39,700, harvested, down from 51,500 in 1998.

The 80,650 deer hunters who were lucky enough to draw a license did enjoy a higher success rate in 1999, with 37 percent killing an animal compared to 27 percent in 1998 when 150,000 deer licenses were issued.

Fewer deer hunters in the field was due to a decision made by the Colorado Wildlife Commission in January 1999, to limit all deer licenses in the state. The intention, recommended by DOW staff, was to give state wildlife managers more flexibility in making management decisions. Licenses previously could be purchased over-the-counter.

The goal was to reduce crowding and increase success by limiting hunter licenses. John Ellenberger, DOW big game biologist, also believed it would be important for more bucks to survive the hunting season.

"We were probably more successful in limiting hunter numbers than we had intended," said Ellenberger. "Limiting the licenses did increase buck-to-doe ratios in some units and we saw a substantial decrease in hunter pressure."

All deer licenses for the 2000 season will again be limited to draw.

Elk harvests were a disappointment to DOW biologists. The season was dominated by warm weather, making the majority of animals stay in the high country and out of hunters' sights.

The overall elk harvest fell well short of what DOW wildlife managers wanted for herd size objectives. The 51,500 elk harvested in 1998 was close to the record harvest in 1996 54,000. The 1999 harvest of 39,700 was significantly lower. Only 17 percent of the state's 239,109 elk hunters harvested an elk, down from 20 percent the previous year.

According to the DOW, the elk are doing too well and the large population is a threat to habitat in some areas. Also, numbers of conflicts with private landowners and stock are on the increase.

"We didn't reach our harvest objective for antlerless elk this year," said Ellenberger. "The warm, dry weather we experienced during the hunting season last year allowed the animals to stay at higher elevations. We also had a drop in non-resident hunters, which was probably due to deer licenses being limited."

The DOW is planning to control the overabundance of elk by issuing more antlerless licenses this season.

The pronghorn antelope harvest was also down from 8,500 animals taken in 1998 to 8,260 in 1999. The 12,800 antelope hunters in 1999 enjoyed a 65 percent success rate, up from the previous year by 2 percent.

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