There’s no crystal ball revealing the results of this fall’s big-game hunting season. No tea leaves to read, no tarot cards to throw, not even a Magic 8-Ball to divine how much success hunters will enjoy.
The signs so far are mixed.
The mild winter meant a bounty of new deer and elk, a new generation providing relief for wildlife biologists concerned about the state’s declining deer herds but creating more concern where elk numbers are higher than desired. And that healthy recruitment might have been offset by the dry spring and summer, which limited forage when it was most-needed by growing youngsters.
When asked about how a dry year might affect big-game fortunes around Gunnison, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife terrestrial biologist Brandon Diamond echoed concerns about available forage.
“My biggest concern is how severe the coming winter will be and how that will relate to forage availability,” said Diamond. “A lean forage year paired with a severe winter has the potential for significant consequences for herds.”
It boils down to food. “It means there will be less feed for all species,” said Stephanie Duckett, Division of Parks and Wildlife Grand Junction area biologist. “Depending on if, when and where summer monsoons show up, things could be OK, but if the lack of rain continues, there will be very little forage, particularly for bears.”
By mid-July, some of those rains had started to come, and Diamond welcomed the brief reprieve. It might mean animals won’t be holding around water holes and are starting to scatter.
“Rifle season hunters should hope for snow, but deer and elk may be more concentrated than normal based on forage availability,” he said.
Early-season hunters, particularly archery and black powder, should keep an eye out for water, whether it’s wallows, springs or stock ponds attracting animals.
State big-game manager Andy Holland said overall deer success might be good, based on the high buck/doe ratios and good winter survival. Elk hunting, though, is a toss-up because when conditions are dry, elk scatter more than deer, increasing the difficulty of finding them.
While you still might find plenty of animals, whether they’re close to water or scattered across the landscape depends on what happens between July and October. Regardless, it’ll will be a different kid of year.
“This fall will be interesting,” Diamond said. “We haven’t had a summer like this in quite awhile. Hunters should come prepared, enjoy their time in the woods and work hard to be successful.”