Too hot for elk |

Too hot for elk

Warm weather blamed for hunter troubles

Collin Smith

With continued warm weather during the last week of rifle season, hunters continued to have minimal success finding animals.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife heard similar frustrations from hunters when the last rifle season ended Nov. 16 as it did earlier in the year, said Area Wildlife Manager Bill de Vergie, whose territory includes all of Moffat County.

Namely, there were no animals to hunt, which de Vergie said resulted from wildlife enjoying the warm weather at high elevations.

“It was pretty slow,” de Vergie said of the rifle season’s final week. “One of our watch points is looking for animals moving (west) across (state Highway) 13, and we didn’t see that.”

It was hoped that the cold temperatures and snow seen around Nov. 10 could start to push migrations into the low lands – and into the waiting scopes of hunters – but the weather didn’t last, and animals moved back up high, de Vergie said.

Local outfitter Justin Gallegos said he saw similar patterns. At age 33, he owns Majestic Trophy Outfitters, which operates south and north of Craig.

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“On our properties, we see good numbers of elk when it snows or when the weather is cold,” he said. “Then, if it warms up, the animals go right back up the mountain.”

Gallegos said it is time the DOW consider moving hunting seasons back to match the region’s increasingly later winters.

“Right now, we don’t have the weather to make animals migrate,” he said. “We’re not getting snow until late November. This year, we’ll be lucky to have that.”

Gallegos soon will be able to tell the DOW how he feels. In February, the agency plans to hold public meetings on how to structure the next five years of hunting seasons, a routine process every five years.

The DOW will be open to discussing later hunting seasons, de Vergie said.

“I definitely think it’ll be discussed,” he said.

It’s important for the public to come out and share their opinions, de Vergie added.

The hunting tourism industry has begun to feel the backlash from upset hunters, Gallegos said. He heard grumbling last year that some would not be returning, which seemed to come true.

“I took a large hit myself,” he said. “They said it’s too warm to hunt in this weather. I heard more of that this year.”

Despite the apparent low rate of success, Gallegos said he does not think the recent disappearance of big game herds from Moffat County is because of reduced animal populations.

Although he has heard that theory many times, he doesn’t think populations have been reduced to the point that the DOW should reduce the number of licenses available in 2009.

Planning for the five-year season structure is a separate process from discussing available license numbers, de Vergie said, but it will happen in March after the DOW surveys herd sizes.

He added that he also predicts healthy animal populations and expects the DOW to continue issuing high numbers of licenses in the future.

“I’m not sure we can issue any more licenses, but when we have two years where harvests are below what we wanted, we’ll stay aggressive,” de Vergie said.