State hopes to build on last year's record elk harvest


For the first time this fall, up to 2,000 antlerless elk licenses will be available over the counter in Northwest Colorado.

Division of Wildlife officials say it is part of an effort to reduce the size of elk herds in the area.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission made the decision to offer the over-the-counter licenses at the recommendation of the DOW in a meeting last week.

The recommendation and decision to offer the over-the-counter licenses, in addition to significantly increasing the number of licenses offered in the area, was made a week after Division of Wildlife officials met with concerned Moffat County residents who said Northwest Colorado was being overrun by elk.

More than 4,000 additional licenses will be sold this year in units north of Craig where the Bears Ears elk herd roams.

Last year, about12,800 licenses were available in the area. This year, more than 17,000 will be available.

For the White River Elk herd, which roams south of Craig, more than 29,000 licenses will be available this year, up from about 23,000 last season.

"In two of the last three years, we've exceeded our harvest objectives for elk and, for the first time, we're beginning to see a decrease in the elk population in areas where we've been over objective for some time," said John Ellenberger, the DOW's big game coordinator. "But we're still substantially above our population objectives in some areas and we are making a large number of antlerless and either-sex licenses available in those places."

The over-the-counter licenses will be available during the fourth hunting season, which is good for the effort to decrease the elk numbers, said DOW spokesperson Todd Malmsbury.

"That's when the possibility of taking a cow is often the best," he said.

Ellenberger said in addition to the over-the-counter licenses and an increase in total licenses sold, the DOW is taking several other steps in its effort to decrease the elk numbers.

These include:

  • Continuing to sell nonresident antlerless elk licenses for substantially less than bull licenses. Nonresidents can purchase a cow license for $250, while the more popular bull elk licenses cost $470. Residents pay $30 for elk licenses.
  • Allowing hunters to hold two elk licenses in some circumstances, providing at least one of the licenses is for an antlerless elk.
  • Replacing limited bull licenses with either-sex licenses allowing hunters to take either an antlerless elk during the first season or a legal bull. Ellenberger told the commission that hunters holding either-sex licenses would often kill a cow elk as the end of the hunting season nears if they've been unable to kill a bull.

Division of Wildlife West Slope Manager Ron Velarde said he believes the division is hearing the concerns of ranch and landowners in Northwest Colorado who say their land is being taken over by elk.

"Any solutions have to involve sportsmen, ranchers, the local business community and many other people because elk management involves many aspects of the community," Velarde said. "Colorado's elk herd is not only valuable to hunters and wildlife watchers, but it is also an economic force in many parts of the state making it important for the DOW to involve everyone with a vested interest in the decision making process."

Ellenberger, who attended a meeting in Craig two weeks ago with the Moffat County commissioners and concerned area landowners, said everything the DOW officials told the concerned residents they wanted to do was passed by the Wildlife Commission last week.

In addition to the increased number of licenses that will be available this year, Ellenberger said the DOW hopes to continue working with Northwest Colorado landowners to organize coordinated hunts in the area.

He said while there is considerable pressure on elk herds right now on public lands, that pressure is not extended to private lands.

"That's one of the key issues," he said. "We need to put some pressure on the private lands."

And it needs to be a coordinated effort between area landowners, he said, so the animals don't simply move to safety on land that is not being hunted.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or

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