If you’ve chosen Northwest Colorado as your hunting venue, you’ve hit the hunting jackpot. Besides the fact the northwest portion of the state is home to the world’s largest mule deer and elk herds, this year’s hunting outlook is rosy, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Bill deVergie, the Area 6 Wildlife Manager.
deVergie heads up a territory that encompasses range from the Roan Divide to the Wyoming border, and from the Utah border to the heart of the Flat Tops region. It’s home to more than 75,000 elk and 100,000 mule deer, as well as untold numbers of antelope, bear, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain lion. In other words, if you’ve come to hunt, your opportunities are almost limitless.
This year, if weather cooperates, hunters in northwest Colorado can expect a good outcome.
“It’s pretty consistent for both species (deer and elk). Elk hunting should be good this year after a moderate winter, but not a super heavy one The further north you go, they had a much heavier winter. We did not have an unusually high mortality rate on deer or elk. We’re expecting hunting season to be good,” deVergie said.
If we have another year of warm, dry fall days, that outlook will be challenged again.
“Elk are very dependent on weather. They stay high, remote and in isolated areas with warm fall weather. They don’t start moving until December.”
The elk rutting season falls between archery and rifle seasons.
“It was designed that way to stay out of the rut as much as possible so hunting pressure doesn’t change behavior,” deVergie said.
Unless we have an unusually cold, wet fall, first season rifle hunters should be prepared for a more rugged hunt than second and third season license holders, as elk will be higher in elevation and in more remote areas.
By contrast, mule deer keep to a schedule. “Deer are like clockwork. They have a calendar in their mind and they know when to go.”
The deer rut occurs somewhere around Thanksgiving. “Prior to that you’ll find bachelor groups of bucks,” deVergie said, adding that deer hunters should expect to see a number of mature bucks this year. As a reminder, in the D7 White River herd, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is conducting a mandatory check for chronic wasting disease during the second and third rifle seasons for harvested bucks. The check is free of charge.
While the antelope population, which resides mostly in Moffat County, should be good this year, numbers are a bit below target due to drought and “winters that have affected them and they haven’t bounced back as quickly as we’d like,” deVergie said.
Conservation efforts have accomplished their goals when it comes to black bears. CPW is encouraging bear hunting.
“We have put out about as many bear tags as we can. There’s not many reasons people can’t pick up a bear license. If you’ve ever wanted to hunt a bear this is as good a time as any.” Bear season starts Sept. 2 and runs through the end of September.
“We have one of the higher bear densities in the state,” deVergie said. The black bear populations have done so well in the past few years CPW is trying to increase the bear harvest.
The same is true for the moose harvest, for hunters lucky enough to get one of the few draw-only licenses. Several small groups of moose which were reintroduced to the area in the last decade are flourishing here.
“If you keep your eyes open you’ll probably have a chance to see one,” deVergie said. The moose are predominantly located east of Meeker, east of Hwy. 13 around Miller Creek and up toward the Flat Tops in the White River National Forest. More can be found near Black Mountain and in the Steamboat Springs and Walden areas.
Although adult moose don’t really have any natural predators, a determined bear or mountain lion might be able to bring down a moose calf, but mother moose are extremely protective of their young and very aggressive. Wolves were once the primary predators for moose, but wolves have not been reintroduced into northwest Colorado as they have in other states.
There is also a small population of bighorn sheep in the area, but they are not thriving like the other species, or even like the other bighorn sheep in Colorado. DeVergie is hopeful that last year’s Lost Solar fire will improve the habitat on this side for bighorns.
Mountain lion season starts the day after the end of fourth rifle season and continues into April.
“They’re on the increase a little bit,” deVergie said. “We’re trying to get control on it, and are working on a statewide lion plan.”
Lions are on a quota system, and updates are posted every evening, so hunters should check to see what’s still available before heading out.
For hunters who harvest their animals ahead of time, all non-resident hunters purchasing a deer or elk tag receive a fishing license with their hunting licenses, so fishing is encouraged.
Hunters are also encouraged to check with CPW for available over-the-counter elk licenses. Some are available for archery season, and more in the second and third rifle seasons.