Colorado Wildlife Commissioners Thursday approved plans to increase the number of either-sex licenses while cutting bull elk tags, as officials also extended this fall's second rifle season.
The specific number of available elk licenses won't be set until May, according to Todd Malmsbury, public information officer with the division of wildlife.
Commissioners Thursday, as part of a discussion on this year's hunting season framework, weighed various proposals designed to curb a growing elk population, which wildlife biologist say was barely dented in the last hunting season.
A rough count of 50,000 elk were harvested statewide last year, officials estimate.
The commissioners' move Thursday means hunters could be able to target more cow elk if unable to take the more elusive bulls in most hunting units in Northwest Colorado.
"The steps should help our management while at the same time present better opportunity for hunters," Malmsbury said.
DOW now estimates the state's elk population at about 305,000, but a more accurate count is needed before issuing licenses for fall seasons, Malmsbury said.
At the same time, "We don't want to increase the number of hunters to protect the quality of the hunt."
State wildlife biologists have said they would prefer an elk population at around 240,000.
Current elk numbers specific to the Moffat and Rio Blanco county areas are still being studied, according to Darby Finley, terrestrial biologist with DOW's Meeker office.
Runaway elk numbers have the potential to threaten livestock and property, he said.
DOW had hoped for an elk harvest at Bears Ears around 6,300 and 11,700 in the White River National Forest area.
"It was good, but not what we had hoped for," Finley said. "The last three years have not helped us in terms of weather."
Increased either-sex licenses would cover regular rifle seasons this fall, which the commissioners set Thursday.
This year's second season has been expanded by two days, which will now cover two weekends.
The now nine-day season will run from Oct. 18-26. Last year's second season proved to be the best draw, bringing in an estimated 60,000 hunters, according to the DOW.
"We've heard from a lot of folks who asked for that second weekend," Malmsbury said.
Commissioners also set the first limited season between Oct. 11-15. Third and fourth seasons were scheduled for Nov. 1-7 and Nov. 8-12 respectively.
Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.