Officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife warned hunters to expect major reductions in the number of big game hunting licenses issued for mule deer, elk and pronghorn in Northwest Colorado this year, and now that the figures are out, the agency is calling the cuts “unprecedented.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife detailed the reductions for big game hunting licenses in the agency’s annual “Big Game Hunting” brochure, which attributed the steep cuts in licenses to the harsh winter stretching from Rangely to Steamboat Springs and up to the Wyoming state line, which Parks and Wildlife is referring to as the “severe winter zone.”
“In this severe winter zone, the winter at lower elevations, where mule deer, elk, and pronghorn winter, was the worst in at least 70 years because of deep, long-lasting, low-elevation snowpack,” Parks and Wildlife officials wrote in the hunting brochure.
A Parks and Wildlife official explained Thursday, May 18, that this year brought an exceptionally hard winter for big game animals with a heavy snowpack preventing them from finding food. According to Parks and Wildlife, the snowpack pushed many big game animals farther west than they normally go in search of food, but even then they weren’t finding much.
As a result, male and either-sex mule deer licenses have been cut by 5,000 — a 48% reduction — in the severe winter area that reaches across the northwest corner of Colorado. Meanwhile, hunting licenses for female mule deer have also been cut by as much as 94% with 2,900 fewer licenses being issued. For female mule deer, hunting licenses will be reduced to the minimum number of 10 per hunt code in some areas in the severe winter zone.
Additionally, Parks and Wildlife has reduced antlerless elk license allocations by 89% in the severe winter zone with public cow hunts also cut to the minimum of 10 licenses per hunt code. In one area that includes a dozen game management units, or GMUs, antlerless elk licenses have been reduced by 63%.
License quotas for male and female pronghorns have also been limited to the minimum of 10 per hunt code. According to Parks and Wildlife, male pronghorn licenses have been cut by 74% and female licenses have been reduced by 83% in the affected areas.
A list of the affected areas is included in the brochure, while complete Colorado Parks and Wildlife statutes and regulations are available at cpw.info/regulations.
Specific big game populations can vary between individual game management units, but pretty much every unit in the severe winter zone was hit hard by high mortality rates.
“It does seem to be an across-the-board cut,” said David Rehak Suma, district wildlife manager in Steamboat Springs, as he explained that he hasn’t seen the exact numbers yet, but Parks and Wildlife is reducing all of the different styles of licenses including ranching for wildlife, private-land-only tags and public tags, in addition to the over-the-counter season.
Beyond the reduction in hunting licenses, Parks and Wildlife has shortened the second and third rifle seasons by five days for over-the-counter bull elk licenses if used in specific GMUs in Northwest Colorado.
The second rifle season has also been shortened from Oct. 28 through Nov. 5 to Oct. 28 through Nov. 1, and the third rifle season has been pared down from Nov. 11-17 to Nov. 11-15. If such licenses are used outside the severe winter game management units, the full season dates will apply.
According to Parks and Wildlife the steep reductions in hunting licenses should allow the herds to recover as quickly as possible.
However, whether hunting licenses return to normal in the coming seasons could depend on a number of factors, and reductions in hunting licenses could extend past this hunting season.
“The goal of the cuts is try to bring (the herds) back to healthy, robust populations, and that’s going to be a multi-year challenge,” Rehak Suma said.
Wildlife officials say the moisture coming out of this winter has been good for the animals so far, and CPW is hoping they have a good summer.
“The moisture that we’ve had has been a good sign that we’re going to have a good summer for them,” Rehak Suma said.
However, he added that if things dry out too quickly, wildfires could be a concern.