Northwest Colorado has built a reputation for trophy elks, but hunters are discovering that this area also offers great opportunities for deer.
"There was a heavy winter kill in the 1980s, so deer hunting was really cut back in Colorado," said Randy Hampton, information specialist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "But the herd has come back, and there are plenty of opportunities out there for hunters."
The population growth has allowed the Division of Wildlife to be more relaxed with deer licenses. At the same time, the number of elk licenses in Northwest Colorado is decreasing as the herds get closer to the objectives set by the Division of Wildlife.
Hampton said the deer and elk populations in Colorado are doing well and that hunters can now enjoy the best of both worlds.
Although many of the hunters who come to Colorado will be looking for trophy elk, Hampton thinks deer offer hunters a choice.
"Deer hunting is not as involved. It's more attractive to new hunters and young people," Hampton said. "Normally it takes less work to get a deer, and less work in the field once you get it."
Elk tend to spend their winters at higher elevations where they can find dark timber. The autumn weather tends to push them out of hiding into areas where they are more accessible, but Hampton said in most cases it's still more difficult than tracking down a deer.
An average bull elk weighs between 450 and 900 pounds. At half the size, deer are less intimidating and easier to handle in the field. Deer also tend to hang out in areas that are more accessible and require less work on the hunter's part.
"Most people in Northwest Colorado have seen deer. All you have to do is take a drive in your car at dusk," Hampton said. "It's not that easy to see an elk."
Hampton said Northwest Colorado, in particular the area around Meeker, is home to one of the largest deer populations in the state.
Hampton said the high mountain terrain and climate of the Steamboat Springs area tends to favor elk hunting. Elk can stay higher later into the fall and don't mind the early season storms that can dump 12 to 18 inches of snow in the high country.
Deer prefer the mountain valleys and usually move lower earlier in the season to avoid early snow.
But even around Routt County, several areas traditionally have been good for deer hunting: Routt County east to Craig, near Walden and in South Routt County.