Steamboat Springs With the last rifle elk season starting today, area wildlife managers expect official harvest numbers for the 2000 season to be among the best ever.
"The hunters have done real well this year. We have had huge harvests on elk and deer," Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager Jim Hicks said.
Because populations of elk in Routt County were estimated to be higher than what biologists believe is healthy, the hunts will benefit the surviving elk.
"We are way over the (population) objective in both of the Bears Ears and Flat Tops herds," DOW area manager Jim Haskins said.
Statewide, harvest reports have been strong, but no one knows for sure how many elk have been killed, DOW spokeswoman Babs Brockway said.
"We can't say for certain if we will reach our objectives. But we've heard a lot of good things," she said.
Smaller numbers of hunters are expected to be in the field for the last open season. Valerie Cass, who sells licenses at the DOW office in Steamboat Springs, said the hunters are coming in, but not nearly as many as in the second season.
Both Hicks and Haskins said most elk have been pushed down from higher elevations by the snow, many going west where there is more private land. Hunters on public lands in lower elevations, particularly Bureau of Land Management land west of Steamboat, are expected to do well. But national forests in the northern part of Colorado don't have many elk in them, Haskins said.
Around Steamboat there may be some elk, but not as many as in the early fall, Haskins said.
Lower elevation hunting means more problems with private land, Hicks said. The goal for hunters is to find animals that have not been pushed off public areas.
Hicks said he expects to have some problems when hunters spot an animal on private land.
"It's just too much for some guys to take," he said.
There is a stiff penalty for giving into temptation. Trespassing on private land carries a $137 fine. If a hunter shoots an animal on private land, he could get fined $1,000 on top of that and lose the right to hunt in Colorado for three years.
Haskins said the elk will stay on the private land until spring, too. Usually after open rifle seasons are over, herds go to higher elevations. But the early snow that has dumped up to three feet in the High Country will keep the elk in the lowlands.
That means private hunts in the winter should be good. However, Haskins hopes landowners won't jack up the price to hunt on their property because of the high number of animals.
Many locals will want to hunt on private land after the tourists go home in hopes of getting a harvest and putting up meat for the winter, Haskins said. But they won't want to pay a big price to get on the land. Also, even with the good harvest numbers from the open seasons, the herd could stand to get thinned a little more. Haskins doesn't want land charges to detour that.
The snow hasn't pushed down all the animals in the High Country. Some hunters will still be in the higher elevations looking for them.
"Those guys are really going to work for it," Haskins said.
The last season starts today and ends on Wednesday.
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