All it takes is an early evening drive along a rural highway in Northwest Colorado to get acquainted with Colorado's growing deer population.
"If you ask most people in Colorado, they will tell you they've seen deer, but not that many people have seen elk," said Randy Hampton, a public information specialist with the Colorado Department of Wildlife.
But when hunting season arrives in Colorado, the number of deer hunters who visit the state pales in comparison to the number who come seeking elk.
"Deer hunters are definitely a minority," Hampton said. "There are a number of reasons that elk hunting is more popular in our state."
The reasons include Colorado's limited licenses and people's preferences of wild game meat.
But Northwest Colorado's deer hunters usually find the odds stacked in their favor.
In 2004, more than 91,646 hunters came to Colorado looking to hunt deer. Most of them came to Northwest Colorado.
Those hunters harvested 22,375 animals for a 44-percent success rate compared with the 251,557 elk hunters who posted a success rate of just 25 percent statewide.
"Fifty-three percent of the total deer in Colorado are from the northwest region," Hampton said.
Hampton said Northwest Colorado, particularly the area near Meeker, is home to one of the largest deer populations in the state.
Hampton said the high mountain terrain and climate of the Steamboat Springs area tends to favor elk hunting. Elk can stay higher later into the fall and don't mind the early season storms that can dump 12 to 18 inches of snow in the high country.
Deer prefer the mountain valleys and typically move lower earlier in the season to avoid early snow.
But even in Routt County, several areas traditionally have been good for deer hunting: Routt County east to Craig, near Walden and in South Routt County.
Another reason there are fewer deer hunters in Colorado has to do with the DOW's limited-license policy.
Hunters should be aware that deer licenses, unlike elk licenses, are limited. Hunters must apply for a deer license and must hunt in specific units.
Hampton said the policy was adopted in 1998 to combat declining deer populations in the state. The deer population has increased since the program began, but he does not expect to see over-the-counter licenses for deer anytime soon.
The deer population in Colorado came in at just more than 600,000 after the 2004 harvest. There are about 274,570 elk in the state. n