Thousands of hunters will come to Northwest Colorado in search of big game this fall.
Their success will depend on a number of factors such as the weather, the health of the elk and deer population and, in some cases, the luck of the draw.
But Randy Hampton, information specialist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said hunters shouldn't base their hunts on the particular units they draw.
"If you are looking for elk in Colorado, there isn't a bad hunting unit in the state," Hampton said. "Sure some units are better than others, but if a hunter comes to Colorado and is willing to put in the work, they will be successful."
Hampton said Northwest Colorado has been divided into units to help control the elk and deer populations. The system also allows the DOW to control hunting pressures in specific areas.
The unit system is used each year to determine how many hunting licenses for each animal will be issued in a specific area.
There are larger units, called data analysis units, which allow for herd migration and movement. There also are smaller game management units, which help the DOW control the hunter-to-animal ratio.
Biologists use the larger data analysis to monitor the health of large herds. The game management units typically are based on geographic points, which allow hunters to find them easily.
Each year, the DOW publishes the success rates of the different units in the Big Game Hunting Guide. Last year the guide even pointed out the hottest units in Colorado from the year before.
Hunters will still find the success rates for the numbered units in this year's guide, but they will not find a listing of the hottest units.
"We didn't do that this year," Hampton said. "The problem is that if we say units X,Y and Z are hot, then that's where all the hunters tend to want to go. Typically, the added hunting pressure means the hunting in those units will not be as good as expected."
Hampton insists that the hunting is good in most of the units in Northwest Colorado and that hunters who do their homework will be successful.
"There are trophy animals in every unit, and the hunters who are willing to do the work will find them," Hampton said. "A lot of hunters think all you have to do is show up when they draw a hot unit. But the hunters who put forth a little effort on the front end normally do a lot better."
Hampton said the DOW's Big Game Hunting Guide is a great place for hunters to start but that they shouldn't stop there.
There is plenty of information about last year's harvest and which game management units were the most successful. But there are many outside factors that can twist the figures, he said. Hunters who rely on those statistics, without doing any research, might be disappointed even if they happen to draw a projected hot spot.
Hampton suggested a pre-season visit to the area, talking with local ranchers and other hunters to find out information that will be important for the hunt.
Maps and numbers will give hunters a feel for how successful they might be, but their eyes and ears will provide information about private property, terrain and how the animals get from one place to another.
Hunters should also look carefully at the numbers when interpreting success rates. Many times game management units post high success rates, but there may only be a few hunters in the unit. Other units might have a lot of game, but because there are more hunters, the success rate is lower.