'It's gotta be huntin' season'

More than 12,000 hunters in Northwest Colorado for opening rifle season

The signs are here.

Don Myers of Myers Hunting Expeditions has his lodges clean and his hunting spots scouted.

The line at Cashway Distributors is almost constant for Jim Simos at the self-proclaimed hunting headquarters of Craig.

The predominant color in the Northwest Colorado wilderness has gone from the mix of yellows on the trees to florescent orange.

"Can you see how packed all the streets and parking lots are?" Craig Chamber of Commerce Sportsmen's Information Specialist Tony Stoffle said. "It's gotta be huntin' season."

Saturday is the opening day of the first rifle hunting season in Colorado and while it is limited to draw-only licenses for elk, Dan Prenzlow area wildlife manager for the Department of Wildlife office in Meeker said there are 12,000 to 14,000 hunters expected to go out for the first weekend.

Karol Janiga, the manager of the Black Nugget Hotel in Craig, said he was at about 50 percent capacity with hunters and expected that number to climb to about 70 percent for later seasons that are not limited to just draw licenses.

Cindy Contreras at the Super 8 in Craig said between temporary workers at the power plant and hunters, they had no occupancies and about 40 of her 61 rooms were reserved by hunters.

As the hunters move into hotels, outfitters' cabins or campsites, the early reports they are receiving is that they'll be doing some moving on the hunt as well.

"The first season hunters will be doing most of the moving because it is still warm and the animals are up high," Stoffle said. "We need snow before the herds move down out of the shade."

Charles Mead of Northwest Colorado Scenic Tours said the hunters with him and his partner, Rick Edinger of Marvine Outfitters, will start out camping high so they won't move around much. But once they get an animal, that is when they have to move.

"With the heat, once they get an animal, they have to take care of it quickly," he said. "My daughter got one last weekend and I lost a hind quarter after one day because the meat started to go bad in the heat."

The DOW has set a goal of a harvest of 65,000 elk this year after a record harvest of more than 61,000 animals last year.

"We're going to need more cooperation from the weather to get those numbers," Myers said. "Right now, we could use a little rain to keep the dust down and later we need snow."

But the snow has to be between a certain amount to work, according to Stoffle.

"We need about a foot to get the deer out of hiding and about two feet for the elk," he said. "But we don't want too much more than that because it's hard for the hunters to get around."

The element of surprise also plays a factor in the first season as herds may be out not expecting the hunters.

"There will still be resident herds out in the open because, with all the elk, there isn't room in the high country for all of them," said Myers, who has 12 hunters in from as far west as California to as far east as Pennsylvania. "We'll be out mostly early and late looking for those resident herds."

According to a press release from the DOW, there were more heads turned in for chronic wasting disease during archery and muzzle-loading season than last year. While that doesn't mean that there were more kills, it is likely that the early seasons went well.

If good reports early are a good sign, it means positive things for everybody involved in the hunting seasons.

"My business is always good," Simos said. "But I really enjoy it this time of year."

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com.

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