More bear hunting licenses up for grabs in Vail Valley |

More bear hunting licenses up for grabs in Vail Valley

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file photoWildlife officials estimate hunters will kill about 39 bears in the region

VAIL VALLEY. Colorado –During hunting season, Gypsum taxidermist Eric Whirley doesn’t set out to shoot a bear.

He scouts for elk or deer, and buys a bear tag just in case one wanders into his sights.

If he was trying to hunt bears this year, though, he would expect to find them on hunting land near town.

“I think they’re in closer around town this year,” he said. “I’ll bet people that get bears will get them in the Vail Valley, hunting somewhere up from the highway.”

With a rise in bear sightings in the Vail Valley, bears have been the center of attention lately. Given that, are more people planning to hunt them this year?

Bear hunting season begins Wednesday, with both archery and limited rifle season going into effect. The Colorado Division of Wildlife plans to give out 630 bear hunting licenses this year for a large swath of land including the Eagle River and Roaring Fork valleys, up from 585 bear hunting licenses last year, Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.

Bear hunters have bought all but about 200 of the bear licenses earmarked for this year, he said. Hampton expects them to sell out.

“The number are actually set in March,” Hampton said. “So we set them well before the bears even come out of hibernation. What we have seen biologically with the population, it was up enough to sustain some additional harvest.”

Although more bear hunting licenses are up for grabs, that doesn’t mean hunters will kill many more bears, Hampton said. Officials expect hunters to kill 39 bears in the region, based on a 6 percent success rate, Hampton said.

That’s doesn’t add up to many more bears than last year. Last year, officials estimated hunters would kill 37 bears, but a higher than usual success rate resulted in hunters killing 43 bears, Hampton said.

Although bears have been the talk of town lately, that doesn’t mean everyone will be running out to kill them.

Vail hunter Bob McClain, 55, doubts he’ll shoot a bear, even though he plans to buy a bear hunting license to support the Division of Wildlife.

Thanks to the recession, he doesn’t think he can afford to shoot a bear.

Last year, McClain shot a 300-pound bear with his rifle in the Flat Tops area. He spent about $1,200 to have the meat processed and a bear rug made.

“It’s not a cheap prospect taking one if you’re going to deal with and handle the meat properly and the hide and all that stuff,” he said.

This year, with business slow at McClain’s fly fishing guide and goldsmithing jobs, he’ll likely stick with bird hunting.

He wonders whether the economy will have an effect on bear hunting.

“With the economy the way it is, I’m wondering if we’re going to have near the crowds we’ve had in the past,” he said. “Hunters and fishermen are usually a tried and true kind of sort, we’re going to get out and we’re going to do it one way or another. Now we might not be traveling or spending the extra money to go somewhere and buy those out of state tags. I would suspect we’ll see a drop in out of state hunters.”

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