A season not wasted

Reports of chronic wasting disease unable to slow number of hunters in Northwest Colorado

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— It appears chronic wasting disease didn't stop hunters from coming out to shoot big game this fall. That, combined with good weather and more licenses, gave the Colorado Division of Wildlife what it asked for: a large elk harvest in the fall big-game hunting seasons.

DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said the number of hunters in the field this fall increased over last year and that the well-publicized CWD outbreak in Colorado in deer and elk didn't shy people away.

Craig sporting goods store owner Jim Simons said he saw no difference in the number of hunters who shopped in his store this fall. Despite statewide numbers being down last year, Simons said he had a good year in both 2001 and in 2002.

"Business was about as good as last year, and business was pretty good last year," he said.

Simons owns Cashway Distributors. He said business from hunters is very important to the success of the store.

"Nothing can break you, but it helps," he said.

The first of four elk-hunting seasons started Oct. 11 and the last season ended Nov. 12. In that time, DOW officials estimated 50,000 elk were killed.

"On a state level, we are pretty pleased with the harvest we got," Baskfield said.

The early estimates don't project numbers similar to the record-setting 60,000 animals of the 2000 season, which wildlife officials had hoped for this year. But Baskfield said no one is complaining.

"We were kind of setting high standards," he said. "A bunch of different factors have to be perfect for that to happen."

Warm, dry weather in the second season was one big factor that detoured hunters this fall. However, the other seasons fared well.

"For the most part, hunters were pleased with what they saw," Baskfield said.

They also had more opportunities. The DOW allowed more female elk tags to be drawn this year and changed a rule that allowed hunters to carry multiple tags.

That meant more females were killed this fall, which has a greater effect on the population. Most of the animals in the herd are females. Reducing that population reduces the reproduction rate, Baskfield said.

"We want the numbers of elk to go down significantly," Baskfield said.

Before the fall, the DOW counted more than 305,000 elk in Colorado. The DOW would like the number to be down to 240,000.

However, even with the strong harvest numbers from the 2002 hunting season, taking in account reproduction rates, it will take a couple more good hunting seasons to bring the population down, Baskfield said.

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