Western Slope Round-Up: Warm Weather Challenged Hunters

The number of deer and elk in Colorado is steady, but the number of successful hunters seems to be down this year. Did a long warm spell during this fall’s late hunting season keep the big game high in the mountains or are hunters forgoing the hunt in Northwest Colorado?Some hunters came down from the hills complaining that they never saw elk let alone shot any, according to Todd Nordstrom, part owner of Outdoor Connections in Craig. In an interview with the Craig Daily Press, Nordstrom noted:

“Basically, they’re (elk) still up high,” Nordstrom said. “We’ve had a couple people come in and say they haven’t seen any.”

It’s a problem that’s getting more usual than unusual every year, he added.

“It (snow falling) is getting later and later every year because of the warmer weather,” Nordstrom said. “When the snow doesn’t come, neither do the elk, generally.”

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketGary Miller has been catering to hunters for almost 30 years in his downtown Rifle store, Miller’s Dry Goods, with hunting themed T-shirts, Rifle souvenirs and extreme outdoor winter clothes, boots and hats. Miller agrees the unusually warm weather this fall has deterred hunters, but he thinks the number of hunters has declined as well.

“My hunting business is not what it used to be 20 years ago,” Miller recalled. “You used to see a lot of hunting rigs, but not anymore. Hunting is expensive, especially coming from out-of-state and people don’t hunt as much, either,” he added.

Yet, why is his store overloaded with souvenir Rifle T-shirts and winter clothing? Miller explained: “What I’ve lost in hunting business, I’ve gained with the oil and gas guys. Most are from out-of-state, so like hunters, they bring inexpensive gifts home —-and they hate to be cold.”

In Steamboat Springs, hunters in the earlier October seasons were more successful than the ones in November. The butcher at the Meat & Seafood Co. in Steamboat, which processes game meat, noted that while they surpassed last year’s number of 450 animals, there has been little action in November.

From the Steamboat Pilot:

“In first and second rifle season (Oct. 13 to 17 and Oct. 20 to 28), we’d get 10 to 20 (carcasses) a day and even had 43 come in one day,” said Sherry Perez, head butcher at the Meat & Seafood Co.

But what began with a bang ended with a whimper for many rifle hunters in the third and fourth seasons (Nov. 3 to 9 and Nov. 14 to 18) as mild weather threw the herd’s typical migratory patterns for a loop.

“We had seven animals total for the fourth season,” Perez said. “Last year’s third and fourth seasons were down, but not like that – that’s ridiculous.”

Division of Wildlife (DOW) called 2006 an average year: out of 256,000 elk licenses sold in 2006, about 24 percent were able to take home some meat with nearly 57,000 cows, bulls and calves harvested. The DOW will have 2007 hunting statistics by late January.

There are more than 2,000 late-season elk cow tags still available to hunt on private land, but no added elk hunting seasons are scheduled.

Photo: An elk statue graces the entryway into Rifle. By Leslie Robinson