Colorado Parks and Wildlife tracked an increase of more than 50,000 deer and elk hunting license applications this year, following a recent trend of renewed interest in outdoor activities, a CPW spokesperson said.
“Up until recently, we were seeing a decline in hunting,” said Matt Yamashita, a CPW area wildlife manager based out of Glenwood Springs. “Less hunters were purchasing licenses each year, and the ones that remained were aging out.”
License sales impact CPW’s operations in a big way, Yamashita said, because they’re the dominant funding source for the agency, with hunting licenses accounting for the largest portion.
The pandemic, increased marketing to younger demographics and a change in the way Americans approach their diets all play a role in reinvigorating the sport, he said.
“There is a growing trend among society to be sustainable,” Yamashita said. “You can’t get more free-range than harvesting the game and processing it yourself.”
From 2020 to 2021, CPW reported applications for deer licenses increased by about 16,000, and elk license applications increased by about 31,000. Colorado, however, is one of the few states to offer “over-the-counter” elk hunting licenses, so CPW won’t have a full picture of the seasons’ numbers until after they end in December.
“There are still some areas where people have to apply for elk tags,” Yamashita said. “But our herds are remaining strong.”
When it comes to deer, hunters are required to apply for licenses, because the state’s deer populations are in decline.
To the casual observer, hunting might seem like grocery shopping turned trophy sport. But for CPW, it’s a crucial key to managing wildlife throughout the state, Yamashita said.
By deciding where hunters can harvest prey, what gender can be harvested and how long the season lasts, he said CPW can reduce wildlife in overpopulated areas and allow populations to renew in areas where numbers are dropping.
“Our deer population continues to decrease from historical levels as a result of disease, urban sprawl and predators,” he said, explaining why deer licenses are more regulated than elk.
An eye on archery
On a sunny September morning, three hunters gathered around a campsite in Four Mile Park to exchange rumors of animal sightings over cups of coffee.
Dave Silvia, a 63-year-old Arizona resident with a thick Eastern U.S. accent, explained he frequently hunts elk in Colorado when he can’t draw tags in Arizona.
“I’ve only seen two hunters in the woods this year, so there’s not a lot of pressure,” Silvia said. “But I have yet to see an elk, and I came in about two weeks ago.”
Mark Howell, 62, and Reed Klearman, 61, stopped in at Silvia’s camp to adjust the rigging on Howell’s ATV.
“This is our fourth year coming to this area,” Howell said. “Normally, my son comes with us, but he tested positive for COVID-19 a couple days before we left, and we weren’t trying to deal with that while up in the mountains on our own.”
Howell and Klearman are from St. Louis and said they set up camp only a couple days before about a mile down the road from Silvia.
“We learned to put a cow fence around our camp after we woke up one morning to find my truck was damaged and covered in hair by cows rubbing up on it in the night,” Klearman said.
All three traveled to Colorado to hunt elk with bows — another trend Yamashita said is gaining momentum.
Dating back to about the 1960s, Colorado’s biggest hunting seasons centered on harvesting deer and elk with rifles, colloquially known as rifle season. Rifle seasons for deer and elk typically follow the bow and muzzleloader season, which overlap.
In the past decade, however, Yamashita said bow and muzzleloader seasons have grown exponentially.
“Anymore, rifle season almost seems like a breather for our guys in the field,” he said.
Neither Howell and Klearman nor Silvia experienced any luck in harvesting an elk with their bows, but their spirits were high regardless.
“The freshest elk sign we’ve seen is at about 10,800 feet, so they have yet to come down from their summer range,” Klearman said. “We have yet to close the deal on one of these hunting trips, but we’ve seen enough to keep us coming back.”