Hunting in the Roaring Fork Valley offers rewards but demands the effort

The Roaring Fork Valley could well be the place to bag the trophy elk you’ve always dreamed of — if you put in the miles and the work.

The region includes several marquee elk units, including 33 and 34, says Glenwood Springs Outdoors manager Kai Dunbar.

“It goes pretty much north of Glenwood and out east and to the west,” he says, adding that hunting areas near Ruedi Reservoir are also stellar.

But an increasing number of hunters is pressuring them, leading to a decline in elk numbers in certain areas, says Colorado Parks and Wildlife assistant area wildlife manager Darren Chacon. He adds that despite being at its targeted population, Unit 43 — a large swath southwest of Glenwood Springs — has seen elk populations dwindle.

“We’re not getting a lot of calf recruitment,” he says, adding that the Frying Pan River herd in GMUs 444 and 47 is also receding. “Elk numbers aren’t doing that well; we’ve reduced licenses in Units 444 and 47, as far as cow tags.”

According to CPW, posthunt 2020 elk population estimates show 6,180 elk in the Frying Pan herd, with a 20:100 bull-to-cow ratio.

Chacon says the recent declines could be attributed to multiple factors. “It could be habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and predation,” he says.

But it’s not all bad. CPW’s post-hunt 2017 numbers show the same Frying Pan elk population at 4,610 with a 22:100 bull-to-cow ratio. “I think populations of the elk had dwindled for a little while in some of the areas, but it started to come back,” Dunbar adds.

To find them, he recommends putting in the time and effort.

“It usually pays off in the end,” he says. “Those willing to spend the time up in the mountains, glassing and hiking and looking for sheds, scrape  marks and old trails usually do better.”

While this is easier said than done in the narrow, rugged and often treacherous high country surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley, it’s where you need to go. Since people continue to invade elk’s natural habitats, they’ve gotten pushed up into the mountains. And based on this year’s heat, it’s advised to look near water.

“Based on the weather conditions we’re having, I’d focus around watering holes,” Chacon says. “And focus on north-facing slopes, which provide shade during the early archery and rifle seasons. They’re trying to stay cool; those slopes see more of a temperature drop.”