Hunters killing plenty of elk | VailDaily.com

Hunters killing plenty of elk

Scott Condon

ASPEN – It’s a good year to be an elk hunter.There’s been a record number of elk killed in Colorado two out of the last three years and another solid hunt is anticipated this fall, state wildlife officials say.The Colorado Division of Wildlife hopes to reduce the elk population from 275,000 last year to about 250,000 this year, said Bruce Watkins, the agency’s big-game coordinator.Overgrown herds can be unhealthy for elk, other animals and the wilderness itself, Watkins said. “Elk numbers went through a pretty dramatic increase in the 1980s,” Watkins said. The wildlife division underestimated the survival rate of elk and their life expectancy. As their populations grew, they “pioneered” into areas of the state like the sagebrush of the northwest corner where they hadn’t been before.The population probably peaked around 2000 or 2001. The wildlife division started selling licenses for male and female elk, and extended hunting seasons to bring the numbers down. “Where we can get hunters to the elk, we can reduce numbers,” Watkins said.But some elk congregate on large tracts of private property where hunting isn’t allowed. The wildlife division is also working with the National Park Service to manage the elk herd that migrates to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the San Luis Valley. Hunting isn’t allowed in national parks and monuments,.Watkins said elk are extremely smart. Some of the older cows, which can live for up to 20 years, will actually head to the sanctuaries once hunters start appearing in the forests.”They’re very good at figuring out where they’re getting shot at and where they’re not getting shot at,” Watkins said. “They know the drill.”Where elk congregate they can knock the ecosystem out of balance. For example, they can mow down all willow and aspen trees near rivers and prevent beavers from settling in the area. A high concentration of elk can also be detrimental to deer.An important figure on the health of an elk herd is the ratio of calves to cows. Watkins said calve-to-cow ratios generally rise when overall populations are reduced. There are a lot of calves being born now simply because there are so many cows, he said.Archery season started Aug. 27 and ends Sept. 25. Muzzle-loading season is Sept. 10 through 18. The first of four rifle seasons is Oct. 15 to Oct. 19.