Early hunting license numbers fall in Moffat County

For Eric Gray, the transition from late summer to fall and into early winter means big business.

As the manager of sporting goods outlet Craig Sports, Gray sees hunters come in and out of his store ready to bag a big one.

And, even with the national economy still in flux, Gray said he has not seen much of a dip in sales.

The fourth season of hunting through the Colorado Division of Wildlife came to a close on Nov. 21. The season for licensed limited rifle hunters of deer, elk and bear had varied effects for local businesses.

Gray said Craig Sports moved a good deal of merchandise through the fourth season.

“The over-the-counter people bought quite a bit,” he said. “They’re the ones who just come in and buy their licenses and equipment when they come into town. We sold out some of our best stuff.”

Gray said the store went through “a lot of scopes and binoculars.”

“We also sold a lot of hunting knives, too,” he said.

However, one customer base has eluded the store, one which Gray said is no surprise.

“The ones who hunt on private land, they’re the rich guys,” he said. “They usually don’t come here unprepared.”

At Bear Valley Inn, manager Brandy Hernandez said she has seen a decline in the number of guests who come to the area strictly for private hunting.

“They have to pay some outrageous prices, and sometimes, they don’t even get anything, so I think that frustrates them and they don’t come back the next year,” she said.

Overall, Bear Valley Inn has seen less hunter traffic than expected, Hernandez said.

“It’s been slower than it was last year, but we still did pretty good,” she said. “People start calling in June to book rooms. We get people from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, California. Normally, we’re all booked up through the season, but we had more rooms this year. I think part of it is the weather.”

Randy Hampton, a Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman, said the state has seen a decline of about four-percent for the number of licenses sold to out-of-state hunters so far this season.

For the first three seasons of unlimited elk hunting in the state, about 66,000 licenses were purchased, compared to 2009’s 69,000.

Hampton said Northwest Colorado was about on par with the rest of the state. He added that the region’s changes in elk numbers have had an effect on the amount of licenses.

“We’ve been under pressure for the last 10 years from the agriculture community to reduce the elk populations in Northwest Colorado, and we finally got to that objective,” he said. “Now we’re hearing from the other side, the people who depend on the hunting business, the landowners who get revenue from letting people hunt on their property. It’s a tremendous balancing act.”

Hampton said the license numbers have “stabilized” in the Northwest Colorado region, though the DOW will not have final license statistics until March, after late season hunters have completed their stay.

“What we don’t control is the economy,” Hampton said. “The people who always come out will come out, but when it was booming, they would bring friends with them and they’re the guys who stay at home, now.”

Hampton said that despite the decline, Colorado is still holding strong in hunter numbers because of all the wildlife it offers.

“We’re fortunate that we still have the resources,” he said.