Northwest Colorado is prime hunting ground

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— Northwest Colorado boasts some of the largest elk and mule deer herds in the world, making it a prime destination for hunters.

Affordable license fees, first-rate accommodations and the availability of over-the-counter licenses contribute to the influx of tourists the area sees from September through November.

The estimated 88,000 elk that roam Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties is one-third of the state's total elk population. The same area boasts 144,000 mule deer.

Both populations exceed Colorado Division of Wildlife management limits, meaning a greater number of licenses are available this year than ever before.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission approved the issuance of 146,000 limited antlerless and either-sex elk licenses for the 2003 season, up from last year by 10,000 licenses. More than 2,000 of the licenses issued this year will be available over the counter. Those licenses are for units 3, 4, 5, 301 and 441.

Hunters can check the availability of leftover licenses by logging on to www.wildlife.state.co.us, or by calling (303) 297-1192.

The increase in licenses is only one way the DOW is working to reduce the size of the elk herd in Colorado. The agency also has increased the number of cow licenses available and lowered the price for those licenses.

According to the DOW, the best units for hunters with deer licenses are 21, 211, 12, 251, 25, 34, 44, 37, 28, 18, 81, 27, 16, 161, and 6. For elk, the numbers seem to be in units 4, 5, 14, 214, 441, 211, 12, 23, 24, 33, 444, 44, 37, 371, 28, and 18.

Good conditions and an abundance of animals contributed to an unusually high harvest in 2002 and, if Mother Nature cooperates, the same is expected in 2003.

Hunting opportunities in Northwest Colorado may increase over the next five years. The Colorado Wildlife Commission will be taking a look this year at whether seasons should be added or restructured.

Goals are to manage growing populations and protect high-priority populations.

Hunting is big business in Northwest Colorado. The area has a wide variety of stores, restaurants, outfitters and hotels that know what hunters need and cater to them.

For a complete list of amenities, contact the area's local chamber of commerce. The DOW maintains offices in several Northwest Colorado communities to help hunters with any question they may have.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife estimates deer and elk hunters spend more than $7 million annually in Routt and Moffat counties and businesses have been built around seeing that trend continue.

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