Area elk hunters have record year

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Colorado elk hunters reaffirmed the Centennial state's claim as the elk capitol of the world in 2000, killing 60,120 elk the largest elk harvest since wildlife agencies have been keeping track of elk harvest statistics.

The 2000 harvest was more than 6,000 animals higher than the previous record of 54,078 in 1996.

The success rate in 2000 was 24 percent, up from 17 percent the year before. In 1999, 239,109 hunters killed 39,682 elk, about two-thirds the number of elk 246,778 hunters killed in 2000. There has not been a higher success rate for elk in ten years.

"We need to keep high hunting pressure on antlerless animals to get down to our management objectives," said John Ellenberger, statewide big game manager for the Division of Wildlife. "We are far enough above our objectives in some areas that it will likely take a number of years to get there."

Despite large annual harvests of elk, the elk herd has remained above the Division's population objectives in many areas. Wildlife managers use hunting as their primary tool to maintain the health of the elk herds and the quality of their habitat. Hunting prevents damage to winter range in periods of drought or severe winters, Ellenberger said.

Hunters killed antlered (bulls) and antlerless (cows and calves) elk in almost equal numbers last year, 28,611 and 28,674 respectively, a record for the number of antlerless elk killed in one year. Usually bulls are killed in far greater numbers than cows. The Division of Wildlife issued a record number of antlerless and either-sex elk licenses available in 2000, accounting for much of the record harvest, Ellenberger said.

The Meeker and Craig areas were particularly good for bull elk hunting in 2000. "Hunter success was 40 percent on bulls in the fourth rifle season," Ellenberger said. "That's unheard of."

Favorable weather conditions there contributed to the high success rates.

"There was enough snow to push elk down from the high country, but not so much snow that hunters couldn't get around," Ellenberger said.

Elk hunters were not the only ones who were busy during 2000. 84,335 deer hunters killed 37,908 deer last year, up from 29,639 kills in 1999. Deer populations throughout the West have declined in general over the last 10 years, but success rates have increased in Colorado since 1998 when the Division of Wildlife shifted to a system of limited licenses.

The success rate was 27 percent in 1998 and 37 percent in 1999. Last year, deer hunters enjoyed a 46 percent success rate for deer, the highest in more than 20 years. The record for deer was set back in 1963, when hunters killed 147,848.

"There are areas of the state where deer are doing very well," Ellenberger said. Deer have recovered significantly in Middle Park, Craig and Meeker and on the plains area east of I-25. (Submitted by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.)

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