The gap between elk licenses availability and demand continues to grow as Colorado Parks and Wildlife gets elk herds numbers closer to population objectives. Cow-elk licenses this year were reduced by 4,000. Story by Dave Buchanan, art courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
First, a correction to an earlier column: I had the dates wrong (by a month!) for the results of the big-game limited license draw.
Results will be posted June 4-8 on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website at www.CPWSHOP.com. I’m not sure if the site is case sensitive, but give it a try both ways. I’m sure CPW agents and officers were pleased to see me publish out the wrong dates.
As soon as the results are posted, there are bound to be some unhappy hunters, for several reasons. Primarily, license applications vastly outnumber the licenses available.
“We had 690,000 applicants and we had 250,00 limited licenses,” Andy Holland, Big Game Manager for Parks and Wildlife, said. “That’s total licenses, including deer, elk, pronghorn and moose, but you get the idea. Demand far outweighs supply.”
Speaking earlier this month during the Parks and Wildlife Commission’s May meeting in Grand Junction, Holland told the commission and audience that setting license recommendations “is one of the most important things our agency does.”
He noted that the quarter-million limited licenses available this year amount to 1,200 fewer than 2017 and while there are increases in deer, pronghorn and moose tags, that’s more than offset by a sharp decrease in elk licenses.
“So, on balance the increase won’t overcome the reductions in elk licenses,” Holland explained. There will be 5,600 fewer elk licenses issued this year compared to 2017.
License numbers are set through herd management plans based on established management areas across the state. These plans, which include biological and social population objectives, are “designed to meet those objectives” using public input, Holland said. “The most important place for public involvement is in the herd management plans,” he emphasized.
Colorado attracts thousands of deer hunters each year and this year likely will be no exception. “Last year, we had 186,00 applicants for deer licenses and we have seen steady growth in the deer applicant demands,” Holland said. “We’re one of, if not the, premier mule-deer hunting states in the west.”
Deer herds and license numbers are showing some recovery after the hard winter of 2007/2008 but license demand still far outruns supply.
There will be 94,900 mule-deer licenses offered this year, up 2,700 from 2017. That includes 52,00 buck licenses, up 1,600 over 2017. The increase in licenses reflects a steady upward trend after the severe winter of 2007/2008 seriously curtailed licenses in following years.
“West slope-wide you can see what one severe winter does to our licenses,” Holland said, a graph showing licenses, which peaked at around 125,000 in 2007, bottomed at around 80,000 in 2012 before beginning the gradual upward trend continuing this year. “We want hunters to have the opportunity to harvest those deer before we lose them to predators, disease or the next bad winter.”
He said the estimated statewide deer population is around 419,000.
“The population objective range is 455,000 to 492,000 so we’re still significantly below where we’d like to be on deer population size,” he noted.
Colorado each year sees about 200,000 applicants for the limited elk tags, Holland said. However, he tempered that by saying “we’re on a 16-year declining trend in elk license numbers.”
Elk herds topped out at around 305,000 in the early 2000s, a number most people agreed was too high, and since then the agency has made strides in bringing the herds down to desired population objectives.
“Now we are working off a smaller population size and more of our herds are at or near the objective desired,” Holland told the commission. “When you’re at or near your objective you have the ability to harvest fewer cow elk.”
Current elk population is estimated at 282,000, about the same as 2017. This year’s license recommendation calls for 127,600 total, which is 5,600 fewer than 2018 and most of these lost licenses (4,300) come from the northwest region.
With most herds now at or near population objectives, fewer cow licenses are being offered. This year, cow elk licenses statewide were cut by 4,000.
With an estimated record population of 85,600 animals, pronghorn are almost 20,000 animals over the desired objective.
“The pronghorn population statewide is increasing, the only one of the species I’m presenting today that is increasing,” Holland said. The largest herd is in the Great Divide area near Craig and numbers about 21,000 pronghorn.
“Fawn/doe ratios have been high the last few years, they are very in tune with moisture,” Holland said. “We’ll see what happens this year as its relates to moisture, particularly in southeast Colorado. If we don’t get moisture, this above-objective situation may be addressed biologically.”
Moose licenses are up this year, 452 compared to 415 in 2017.
“Last year we had 26,000 applications for the 415 license we had,” Holland said. “Moose and CPW are doing their best to accommodate the demands for those 26,000 people.”
Bull license total 190, up 37 from 2017, and cow license are up 18 to 262. There now is moose hunting in 62 game units, up from the 39 as recent as 2013. Current population estimate is 3,100 moose statewide.