Steamboat Springs The army of men clad in blaze-orange ball caps strolling down Lincoln Avenue on Friday afternoon weren't in town for the homecoming parade. And by dawn this morning, most of them presumably had disappeared deep into the woods.
The first of four rifle elk-hunting seasons in Colorado begins today. The mountains in Routt and Moffat counties are the epicenter of elk hunting in North America. Colorado has more elk than any other state or Canadian province. Of the 65,000 elk harvested in the state last year, two-thirds were hunted in Northwest Colorado.
The hunters who came through downtown late this week were some of the most dedicated.
"These are the plan-ahead hunters," Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said. "These are the guys who sit around with their buddies in Alabama or Michigan or wherever they live and talk all year about where they plan to hunt. These guys had a real good concept back in April where they would be on Oct. 15."
Out-of-state hunters who come to Northwest Colorado for the first rifle elk season must plan, because licenses for specific hunting areas, or game units, are drawn by lottery. There are no over-the-counter sales of bull-elk licenses for the first season, which runs today through Wednesday. Also, there are no combination deer and elk licenses for the first season.
There are two schools of thought among serious elk hunters about which of the four elk seasons is best, Hampton said. Some hunters like the first season because they want a shot at a bull elk before hunting pressure pushes them out of public lands. Other hunters swear by the fourth season, when snow is more likely to be on the ground. Snow pushes elk herds to lower elevations and concentrates them where feed is available.
The second big-game season runs Oct. 22 to 30; the third season is Nov. 5 to 11; and the fourth season is Nov. 16 to 20.
New this year is the elimination of over-the-counter bull-elk license sales for the fourth season. That means casual hunters who wait until autumn to make up their mind about whether to hunt will be concentrated in the second and third seasons.
The cost of an elk license is $30.25 for Colorado residents. Nonresidents pay $485.25 for a bull-elk license and $250.25 for a cow-elk license. Those numbers suggest out-of-state hunters, who tend to carpool in big pickups anyway, will not be deterred from coming to Colorado this fall by $2.70-a-gallon gasoline.
Elk hunters pump more than $7 million annually into the economies of Routt and Moffat counties, according to DOW studies.