All big game animals require four major components for their existence: food, water, shelter and space. These variables are all critical to their survival and can vary noticeably from year to year. Since wildlife needs all four of these components to survive and prosper, a change in one factor may influence the other three components. 2021 is no exception. NW Colorado is experiencing one of the tougher droughts over the past 50 years. This drought is not just limited to 2021, but is an affect from ongoing weather patterns and drier than normal conditions for several years. Drought will have an effect on the upcoming big game hunting seasons and hunters should be prepared and do their homework in advance.
An increase in overall summer recreation is also playing a role in big game management across Colorado. Increased human activities into more remote areas where big game wildlife exist during the summer months can change animal distribution and affect the space component for wildlife survival. People recreating in the outdoors during summer months should consider potential impacts they have on various wildlife species. It is great to see wildlife in nature, but just beware that your presence can cause stress on animals and if the disturbance occurs often enough, this can displace animals to lesser quality habitats and have an effect on their survival.
Fires across the NW portion of Colorado have also played a role in big game animal distribution. Sportsmen should look at the area where they like to hunt and make sure there are no ongoing or recent fires. Fires in a particular area do not mean there will not be wildlife nearby, but access to their favorite hunting spot could be an issue.
The elk herds in both the White River and Bear’s Ears herds are doing well. Numbers of animals are good so hunters who work hard should be able to find good elk groups when in the field. There are good numbers of legal bulls to harvest if hunters can find their hiding spots.
Water will be a limiting factor this year as the drought has reduced and limited water sources. Hunters should be aware of this issue and look to hunt in areas in reasonable proximity to water. Elk will travel several miles at night if needed to get water. Weather conditions can change quickly in Colorado so big game animals can also change their movement patterns and location based on a change in the weather, especially snow depth.
CPW has mandatory Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) sampling for elk this year. Successful hunters during the first and fourth rifle seasons in the NW portion of the state need to submit their animal’s head for sampling at any CPW sampling facility. All fees associated with sampling will be waived.
Similar to elk, deer herds in the NW portion of Colorado are doing well. Survival rates have varied the last few years but there should be decent numbers of 3-4 year old bucks for sportsmen to find. Deer in general will not travel as far to find water as elk, so hunters should consider this when researching places to hunt. Deer are more likely to migrate to winter range based on the time of year rather than the weather or snow depth. The later season dates for the rifle deer seasons this year should also benefit hunters.
Antelope hunting should be good this year. Overall numbers appear to be stable. Antelope will spend their summer and early fall in lower elevations which tend to be drier. This year with the drought conditions in NW Colorado, antelope may be located much closer to water sources in smaller areas. Hunters need to make sure they know the land ownership when hunting as antelope may be on private property more this year due to the dry conditions.
2021 Big Game Hunting Forecast
By Bill DeVergie
Area 6 Wildlife Manager
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Special to the NWCO Hunting Guide