Steamboat Springs For the hunters who started off the first of the year's four big-game rifle seasons Saturday, the early bird definitely did not get the elk.
Early Saturday snow showers and a light drizzle kept the elk from moving and the hunters from seeing them.
But as the clouds moved on, Routt County turned into prime hunting grounds as the elk came out of their cover to find food.
"With snow like this, we usually have 100 percent success rate. Everybody is getting in the game, getting to see a bunch of elk and getting one if their good enough hunters," said Ray Heid of Del's Triangle Three Ranch, an outfitting group out of Clark.
Heid said all of the company's camps reported having killed elks in the first two days of the season for draw tags for cow and bull elk.
Susan Werner from the Steamboat Springs Wildlife Area said Sunday that elk started moving late Saturday after the storm passed through.
"All the people I talked to today were seeing elk. They didn't necessarily kill a lot yesterday, but they were tracking down elk today," she said. "(The elk) moved a lot during the night."
Saturday's weather spelled success for Roger Bennett, who has been coming to Hahn's Peak to hunt for the last 20 years. Bennett said he and his party of five bagged a cow elk late Saturday afternoon. Coming from Denver, Bennett said the five inches of snow on the ground helped the hunters.
"The fun stops when you pull the trigger," Bennett said Sunday afternoon as he dropped off his kill at the Steamboat Meat and Seafood, Co.
Bennett's carcass was one of 20 elk the meat processing company had received in the last two days. That number, owner Bill Hamlin said, is good for the first two days of the season.
Although Hamlin's catering business has taken a hit from the lag in the economy and the September 11 tragedy, he said the wild game processing has stayed strong.
"Our business has been affected by the September 11," he said. "But the game season is the pleasant side of it."
Steamboat Meat and Seafood Co. had a better than average preseason, with 250 elk coming into the meat processing plant during archery and muzzle loading season. Hamlin is gearing up for the next three rifle seasons, which will bring hunters in from Oct. 20 to 26, Nov. 3 to 9 and Nov. 10 to 4. To prepare, he hires 20 extra workers to help process the wild game seven days a week.
"We'll really be busy next week," he said.
Although Steamboat Seafood Meats didn't see a drop in business, for outfitters like the Del's Triangle Three Ranch, the economy definitely hurt their revenue. Heid said the September 11 attack was influential but not as much as the state's increase for out-of-state licenses, which pull Colorado prices up to other surrounding states. Werner said the state office has seen a 25 percent decrease in the number of applications for licenses compared to last year at the start of the first season.
"Every time the fee increases, you see a drop in the number of application forms for a number of years then people start coming back," she said.
Heid said the outfitters have lost 70 percent of the usual business they have gathered in the last 40 years. Only one out the four camps are booked for the next season that starts on Saturday. Heid said the camps are usually full six months in advanced.
Though the hunters might not show up for the hunting season, the elk have, Heid said.
"The elk are there and hunters that have been here more than 10 to 12 years, are seeing more than they've ever seen before," he said.