What the wet spring spells for hunters; Healthy herds, but limited visibility

As recently as last April, hunters were facing the possibility of a severe drought affecting this year’s game populations. What a difference a month can make.

In May, northwest Colorado, from the rolling plains of Grand Junction to the mountains of Steamboat Springs and Middle Park, experienced record rainfall, boosting area snowpack and foraging opportunities for game.

“The weather is always the big unknown when it comes to how animals fare,” says Brad Petch, CPW’s northwest senior wildlife biologist. “Hard winters have a much more dramatic effect on populations than drought does. Without this year’s rains in May, area herds would’ve been in big drought conditions.”

This year’s weather pattern was as far-reaching as any he has seen, spelling similar conditions throughout northwest Colorado. “This was as general a weather pattern as we’ve seen in recent years, from a low snowfall winter to a wet spring,” Petch says. “Everything north of Interstate 70 looks pretty homogenous in terms of the good news.”

But what does all this early moisture mean for hunters, apart from healthy herds? For one, even though there may be more animals, they’ll likely be harder to spot.

“There is a lot of forage making for healthy herds, but the visibility may not be as good this year,” says Petch. “It’s going to be hard to see game this year, especially if they’re bedded down. The foliage is pretty high.”

Petch adds that this will affect everyone from archers looking for a close shot to rifle hunters sighting in at longer distances. “It’s going to decrease the ability to sight animals in at long distance,” Petch says. “Animals will be able to bed down and hide this year pretty easily.”

Grand Junction area wildlife manager JT Romatzke adds that all that growth, with its knee-high grasses and verdant shrubs, will likely spread the animals out instead of consolidating them in certain locations, also making it hard on hunters. “There’s lots of forage, which means great opportunities for hunters,” he says. “But at the same time, it might also be a bit tougher for folks because those animals will be scattered all over the place.”

CPW Southwest Region terrestrial biologist Scott Wait agrees,but adds there’s a bright side to the harder hunting as well. “There is certainly a lot of forage, so elk and deer will be scattered everywhere, making hunting difficult,” he says. “But they should be in great condition.”