Tori Pingley shows off her mule deer this hunting season. This photo was submitted in the Craig Daily Press Hunting Photo Contest. The contest is now closed, but the newspaper needs the your help judging the photos. Go to the Craig Daily Press Facebook page and click "like" on your favorite photo. The photo with the most likes will receive a $250 gift card to Murdoch's.

Courtesy photo

Tori Pingley shows off her mule deer this hunting season. This photo was submitted in the Craig Daily Press Hunting Photo Contest. The contest is now closed, but the newspaper needs the your help judging the photos. Go to the Craig Daily Press Facebook page and click "like" on your favorite photo. The photo with the most likes will receive a $250 gift card to Murdoch's.

Area hunting improves in 2013, still difficult west of Craig

— With rapidly changing weather characterizing much of the fall, the 2013 hunting season showed a successful increase in big game hunting, yet it was not as friendly to those hunting the migration in far Northwest Colorado.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife speaks with hunters after their hunts throughout the archery and rifle seasons, gathering information and forming an idea on how the season went. In 2013, elk and mule deer success rates climbed slightly but didn’t match up with some of the wildly successful seasons from years past.

“I think it was a little better, but I wouldn’t characterize it as a big year,” said Bill de Vergie, Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager for Area 6, which includes Moffat County, Rio Blanco and parts of Routt and Grand counties. “I would call it a fair year overall. A lot of that had to do with the weather. We had such drastic changes in the weather.”

Northwest Colorado had wet months in September and October, which had significant snowfall followed by prolonged warm weather, which kept many elk from migrating earlier in the season.

Much of the elk hunting success in Moffat County happens when elk herds migrate west of Colorado Highway 13 and are out in the open. That time never came in the third and fourth rifle seasons this year, de Vergie said.

“Normally, we’ll get a good snowstorm and it’s followed by a good cold spell,” he said. “This year, we had the snow, the accumulation, but then it got warm again. The more traditional places out west, when the elk get west of Highway 13 is when we see lots more success. We heard from a lot of people that tried, but they struggled.”

But a later migration meant tons of opportunity for hunters trying their luck in the high country and farther east. Rick Myers, of Buck Mountain Outfitters, which hunts northwest of Steamboat in Game Management Unit 214, said there were lots of elk throughout the seasons this year.

“Our seasons were all really good except for maybe the fourth season,” Myers said. “We’re on the east side of Hayden, and a lot of those elk stayed in the trees because the leaves stayed on the trees. The snow came and it went away fast. We’ve seen big herds, they were herded up 100 to 300 at a time, and they weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere.”

Myers admitted that elk were a bit harder to hunt given the thick forest setting, but with so many opportunities, he still called it an “excellent” year.

Pinnacle Peak Adventures does its hunting on private land in GMU 4 northeast of Craig, and manager Bill Green said they had good opportunities with elk, as well.

“We had more elk this year," than normal, he said. “The weather had something to do with it. Those early snows got them started moving, and then we had this late fall moisture that gave them plenty of feed.”

That experience gelled with most of what de Vergie heard, hunting on private land and in the high country had was favorable.

“I think a lot of the hunters that really work hard at it probably had more success,” he said. “The people who spend more time closer to the roads might have had more trouble.”

Mule deer hunters also had a high rate of success in the area, according to the information Parks and Wildlife has been able to collect so far. That could be the continuation of a trend from the last couple years, with very few hunters receiving licenses to hunt mule deer. In 2012, every Game Management Unit in the Green River and Upper and Lower Yampa regions had a higher success rate than the five-year average, according to Parks and Wildlife’s 2012 hunt guide.

De Vergie said that could have to do with the lack of hunting competition for mule deer as Parks and Wildlife works to grow the herd populations.

“We’re so limited on our mule deer licenses, the folks that had them had no problem with success,” he said. “The deer hunting was actually pretty good.”

So while those getting deer licenses often are coming home with a kill, the bigger issue for hunters is drawing the opportunity to hunt.

“One of our biggest hang-ups we had this year was just getting people mule deer licenses,” Green said.

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@CraigDailyPress.com.

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