A light snow and an unstressed herd meant some of the best harvest numbers for elk in a long time for the opening weekend of rifle season in Routt County.
Though Colorado Division of Wildlife officials expected a 40-percent decrease in hunters in the field because of the first season going to draw tags only, local wildlife officials, taxidermists and meat processors are seeing more carcasses than last year's opening rifle season.
"From what we've heard and what I saw, this may be the best harvest ever," DOW area manager Jim Haskins said. "It's hard to find a hunter that didn't have a harvest this weekend."
On Saturday morning, the beginning of the first big-game rifle season of 2000, hunters were blessed with a light blanket of snow on the ground in the high country. That made for easy tracking and quieter conditions aiding the hunt, Haskins said.
Herds also were more accessible and large in size.
"What the hunters are telling us is that they've never seen this many elk in the forest," Haskins said.
The snow helped in that department, too, with the colder weather pushing the animals down into places where hunters can go.
But wildlife officials speculated that a last-minute restriction that limited the number of archery and black-powder hunters in northern parts of Routt County could have had an influence.
Reports in those areas indicated the elk herds had not been forced to higher ground from the early season specialty hunters.
"The weather helped; I think the management helped, too," Haskins said.
Preliminary reports indicated that a drop camp of seven hunters at Del's Triangle Ranch near Clark had three kills over the weekend and that there were still plenty of animals to choose from, said Rowan Heid of Dels.
"We're pretty sure they're all going to tag out," he said. "It definitely was a good opening morning."
That was confirmed by the number of carcasses that came into the Steamboat Meat and Seafood Co. this weekend.
"So far it's better than last year," meat manager Rick Spencer said. "Were seeing a lot of nice (elk) bulls and we're getting a few cows."
He estimated to have 50 carcasses came into the store over the weekend.
The same was true at B&L Quality Taxidermy. But the rush came later in the day.
Father-and-son team Leland and Bob Reinier had their feet up on Saturday morning, but were slammed in the afternoon.
"We did really well," Bob Reinier said. "We're skinning three right now."
They took in 15 carcasses over the weekend.
The first rifle season ends on Wednesday. That's followed by two combined deer and elk seasons from Oct. 21 to Oct. 27 and Nov. 4 to Nov. 10, when bull-elk tags are available over the counter and cow and either-sex deer tags are draw.
The regular rifle season ends with a combined deer and elk hunt from Nov. 11 to Nov. 15 with over-the-counter bull tags and draw cow and deer.
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