In the 61 years since cow elk licenses first were limited in Colorado, hunters have become familiar with the concept of applying for, and not always getting, a license of their choice. Even in areas where over-the-counter archery tags are available and liberally used, most of the elk are harvested on limited licenses.
That’s the word from Colorado Parks and Wildlife state big game manager Andy Holland. “Two-thirds of our elk hunters use limited licenses,” he says. “Even though we have liberal over-the-counter bowhunting in some areas we also have a lot of limited licenses for elk. That’s where the harvest comes from.”
Limiting licenses has several functions, among them focusing pressure where herds are over population objectives and lessening harvest where herds need to rebuild. Over the past decade or so, CPW has been liberal with elk licenses as it’s moved to reduce elk herds in most areas. Those years of abundant licenses – particularly with cow elk, where in some areas hunters could get multiple licenses – are over as elk herds move closer to desired levels, says Holland. This year, he adds, the numbers of licenses is down even more.
“Elk licenses dipped this year by about 3,300 to around 138,200 statewide,” Holland says. “That continues our recent trend to reduce cow elk harvest.”
Harvesting cow elk is the quickest way to reduce elk numbers and the forecast elk population post-hunt 2015 is around 255,000 statewide, he says, well within the 222,000-270,000 range desired by wildlife managers. With an estimated 246,000 elk pre-hunt, ample cow licenses are available for this hunting season.
“Even with numerous over-the-counter bull licenses in many of these herds, our cow harvest is nearly equal to the bull harvest,” Holland says. “While we’re backing off we still have very lively cow license allocations in most of these herds.”
The reason, he adds, is that “there still are plenty of elk herds that are above objectives.”
Most of the license cuts this year came in antlerless (cow/calf) tags and most of those, about 2,800 licenses, were cut from the Southwest Region. “Over the last couple of years we’ve done everything we can to achieve population objectives,” he says. “Now that we’re at or near our objectives, we’re starting to pull back on the antlerless licenses.”
He adds that the trend likely will continue “over the next few years.” But even with fewer licenses available, there is opportunity for all hunters, Holland says. “The predicted harvest this year is 43,000 elk, which is similar to the last three years,” he says.
Of that yearly average, 22,000 have been bulls and 21,000 have been cows, he says, adding that the demand for cow licenses, and the resulting cow harvest, remains high. “Even though we continue to reduce the harvest objectives in some areas, we really have a unique and amazing elk hunting (opportunity) in the state for just about anyone who wants it,” he says.