Where to go for deer and elk in western Colorado
Vail CO, Colorado
– Variety and extremes here, with several Flattop Wilderness peaks at 12,200 feet, dropping to 5,300 near Rifle.
Lower elevation vegetation starts with sage, up to oakbrush/mountain brush, aspen, evergreen and alpine tundra. First season has mild weather with light snow. Roads become impassable in upper half of area by third season.
– GMU 24 ” High country is prone to late-season heavy snowstorms and can strand hunters on Flattops after the first season. Lots of public land with heavy hunting pressure especially in northern half of GMUs 24 and 24.
Four-wheeler vechiles are necessary on all but the area’s few main paved roads. Half of area is roadless – good hunting if you walk or pack in.
– Heavy ATV traffic may be encountered in GMUs 12, 23 and 33. GMUs 25 and 26 have hunter access on USFS Service Road 610 (Stump Park Road) or USFS Road 613 (Crescent Lake Road). Deer are scattered and moved by hunting pressure and weather. On public land, GMU 12 is better early. Areas for good hunting are GMU 23 in Hay Flats, Miller Creek southwest of Meeker and the Jensen and Oak Creek state Wildlife Areas.
– GMU 24 is a popular and heavily hunted early elk area, but deer can be found on private land along the White River and in the Sleepy Cat and Sand Peak areas.
Both GMUs are considered very good elk hunting, with elk generally at higher elevations in eastern portions of GMU 12 in early seasons, then moving west to lower elevations (and private lands) as snow depth and hunting pressure increases.
Hunt abundant public lands in eastern GMU 12 early on. Trophy bull chances are low due to unlimited bull elk licenses. Access roads create high hunting pressure on
Sleep Cat, Lost Park and Sand Peak.
The flattops Wilderness Area offers good hunting but access is limited to walking or horseback. Hunters should be prepared for heavy snowfall potential. Avoid main roads and hunt dark timber and deeper canyons.
There are groups of big game management units that are called DAUs or Data Analysis Units.
Each unit has considerable data on census counts and harvest figures as recently as 2006. All Game Management Units statewide have similar data.
The 2007 Colorado Big Game brochure has a two-page spread in the back of all the Game Management Units (GMUs) in Colorado, along with a list of all Colorado Division Of Wildlife (CDOW) offices.
Hunting areas described in this story can be looked at by checking the listed unit numbers on the map and finding towns and highway designations.
All this information and much more will be included in the 2007 Big Game Hunting in Northwest Colorado pamphlet, now available at all Colorado Division of Wildlife offices.
Hunting areas with their associated GMUs covered in the pamphlet are as follows:
Mesa County/Northwest Colorado
Green River 1, 2, 10, 201.
Lower Yampa 3, 11, 211, 301.
Upper Yampa 4, 5, 13, 14, 15, 131, 214, 441.
North Park 6, 16, 17, 161, 171.
Bookcliffs/Piceance 21, 22, 30, 31, 32.
White River 12, 23, 24, 25, 26, 33, 34, 231.
Eagle River Valley 35, 36, 44, 45,
Middle Park 18, 27, 28, 37, 181, 371.
Glade Park 40.
Grand Mesa 41, 42, 421.
Roaring Fork 43, 47, 444, 471.
Items of note:
– Dinosaur National Monument is closed to all hunting. In this area, Diamond Mountain is the highest point, dropping to an elevation of 5,100 feet at the White River.
Sage and sage-grassland dominate, with typical vegetation groups with increasing elevation. Generally the weather is mild in later seasons. Higher elevations can have significant snow accumulations.
– GMU 201 is over 85 percent public land. GMU 2 is checkerboard public and private land, and GMU 10 is mostly BLM property with considerable scattered private land. Check maps for location.
– GMU 1 has poor access into the rough, rocky terrain and into the wilderness area. All these units are drawing only licenses needing many years of preference points.
An agreement with a private landowner and the State Land Board has opened several thousand acres in GMU 201 for public hunting access. See the Craig Chamber of Commerce or the CDOW office in Meeker for details.
– Deer are scattered throughout GMUs 2, 210, 201 and the northern portion of GMU 1. If there is any migration, it is usually during third season.
– GMU 1 deer tend to stay at the north and south ends of Brown’s Park Refuge. GMU2 and 201 good bucks average 24-26 inches with good trophy bucks, often with high and wide antlers, in GMU 10 (Blue Mountain). Hunt brush cover areas, high early and lower elevations.
More than 330 elk bulls are common, and elk stay put over the seasons. Any movement is usually weather dependent.
Elk are scattered in GMUs 10, 201 and northern portion of GMU 1.
– Blue Mountain and Moosehead Mountain in GMU 10 would be a good bet. Brace yourself for rough terrain. Hold out for a good bull in GMUs 2 or 201, with average size around 305. In GMU 2, southwest corner might be better. In GMU 1, try Hoy Draw and Chokecherry Draw.
– Intense energy development is occurring in this area. Pinyon-Juniper covers most of this area, with pockets of sagebrush. Terrain varies from open rolling sagebrush to steep-sided canyon country.
This area is 75 percent BLM land, and provides some excellent remote hunting on foot, horseback or ATV. The southern portion is especially steep and rugged. Retrieving game is hard.
Weather is generally mild. Rain will produce muddy roads. Third season snow make roads impassible without chains.
– Deer hunting is fair to good in these units, with deer scattered in northern portions from mid-October and at higher elevations early.
Dry weather means lots of walking and looking. Deer move south with good snows. Cathedral Rim has some big bucks in tough terrain. Little Hills and Dry Fork of Piceance is better late.
– Cow elk hunting is best in remote areas, mostly at high elevations in pockets of green timber and aspen. Check Texas Mountain and Ratt Hole Ridge.
Pressure will push some bulls into large expanses of pinyon-jiniper. Enough snow and pressure will move some elk into Kittle Hills and Dry Fork areas of piceance in later seasons. Most GMU elk move into GMU 22 to winter.
– There’s a wide variety of terrain from spruce/fir forests at 11,000 feet to pinyon/juniper woodlands at 4,800 feet. Depending on the day, terrain can be rainy or snowy and dry the next.
Roads can get muddy four-wheelers are recommended. Not much road access in GMU 42. Successful hunters walk or ride a horse. Hunting pressure generally is heavy.
– Intensive natural gas exploration and development activities are occurring on the Grand Mesa National Forest in the Hightower area (GMUs 42 and 421), with work including major drilling projects and pipeline construction during fall hunting seasons. Contact the United State Forest Service Grand Valley Ranger District at (970) 242-8211 for more details.
– There are moose in the area. Be sure of your target. Increasing deer numbers should produce good hunting on forest lands and higher elevation private lands during October. Resident deer stay in lower agricultural areas year round. Migrating deer will begin to move off the forest in mid-November to lower elevations and BLM lands. Best deer hunting is at mid-elevations (8,500 – 9,500′), with more bucks showing up in later seasons.
– Good success is expected with a well-distributed elk herd scattered throughout the forest and on private lands. Most elk stay at higher elevations (8,500 – 10,000″) in thick timber and oak brush. No seasonal migration, but hunting pressure can move elk into more remote areas and classic cover of heavily wooded, north-facing slopes near water. Best hunting is away from roads.
– Good number of legal bulls, as area is managed for quantity of bulls rather than trophy status. While trophy bulls are present, they’re also relatively rare.