Bow hunters and muzzle-loaders take the first cracks at healthy herds

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Hunt like a lady

In addition to youth, the DOW is also targeting another key demographic group - women.

The DOW, through its "Women Afield" initiative, offers the women's "Cast 'n' Blast" program, Saturday, Sept. 22 in Steamboat Springs. The all-day course combines a half-day of shotgun shooting instruction and a half-day session on fly-fishing basics.

Danielle Domson, district wildlife manager for the Steamboat district, called the course "a great way for interested first-timers or beginners to learn in a no-pressure environment."

The DOW will provide all necessary equipment. Cost is $15, including lunch. Participation requires a valid Colorado fishing license and is limited to the first 16 women, age 12 or older. Call the Steamboat Springs DOW office at 870-2197 for more information or to reserve a space.

The future of the hunt

An increasingly urbanized nation is pulling hunters and anglers from the woods. Colorado is no different.

The numbers point to a trend. With the release of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation state overview, the Associated Press recently reported that, "the numbers of hunters 16 and older declined by 10 percent between 1996 and 2006 from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The drop was most acute in New England, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific states, which lost 400,000 hunters in that span."

Steve Yamashita takes the statistics with about a grain of salt.

"The numbers have been dropping, but we've made efforts in Colorado to increase them," said Yamashita, Northwest Assistant Regional Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "With the average age of hunters at 45, we've known the numbers have been dropping and are trying to recruit the youth back."

Key 2007 big game hunting season dates

Aug. 25-Sept. 23: Archery deer and elk

Aug. 15-Sept. 20: Archery pronghorn

Sept. 2-20: Limited bear

Sept. 2-23: Archery bear

Sept. 8-23: Archery moose

Sept. 8-16: Muzzle-loading deer, elk, bear and moose

Oct. 1-9: Moose

Oct. 6-12: Pronghorn

Oct. 13-17: Limited separate elk first rifle season

Oct. 20-28: Elk and deer second rifle season

Oct. 21-29: Muzzle-loading pronghorn

Nov. 3-9: Deer and elk third rifle season

Nov. 14-18: Limited elk fourth rifle season

All deer and elk licenses are determined by draw only. Rifle bear seasons (unlimited with a cap) also run concurrent with the deer and elk rifle seasons. Visit http://wildlife.c... for license fees and full schedule details.

— When fall arrives, and bow hunters and muzzle-loaders get the season's first shot at what lurks in the woods, size matters.

But herd size has been a tricky issue for gauging the bounty of the Bears Ears elk herd. This herd, the second-largest migratory elk herd in North America, occupies the E-2 Data Analysis Unit from the Wyoming border south to U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat Springs and Craig. When the Colorado Division of Wildlife decided to conduct an aerial census survey of the herd this year, the numbers sky-rocketed from those previously generated by a computer modeling system.

"You basically take a randomized quadrant square, count as many animals as you can and extrapolate from there," said Northwest Assistant Regional Manager Steve Yamashita. "The (DOW's) used it for deer for a number of years, but it's harder with elk because of the terrain. The Bears Ears is flat enough to use, so we have 95 percent confidence in the numbers."

The herd increased from an estimated 16,100 elk after the 2005 harvest to 25,760 after last season's harvest, with a healthy bull-to-cow ratio of 38 to 100. Yamashita said the current herd size is estimated at somewhere between 23,000 and 45,000.

Yamashita also said in recent planning meetings to discuss management issues, the DOW has not been surprised by the consistent feedback from landowners, who have cited growing herd sizes for years.

The hunters in the hills, however, have been a little surprised at what a mild winter and a moist late summer have yielded.

"The game is in such fantastic shape, because there's been a lot of good feed," said Ray Heid, who guides hunts for Del's Triangle 3. The elk "are bigger than we've seen in a long time."

Heid has hunted the ridges and wooded pockets near his four high-altitude camps in and near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area (within Game Management Units No. 5, 14 and 161) since 1962.

"This season looks as good, if not better, than the best years we've ever had," Heid said.

Since the deer and elk archery season began Aug. 25, Heid has had hunters harvest game at all his camps, but remembers a recent trip he guided that indicated just how thick this year's elk herd is.

"We saw a monstrous bull out the first day, but then we saw 11 more when we were packing out the one he got," Heid said.

Other area bow hunters are heading for the low lands to get their fix before the full crowds arrive for the main rifle seasons.

Jason Bodner, a fishing guide at Walden's North Park Anglers, has picked up archery in the past few seasons and has been reveling in the wide-open pronghorn hunting opportunities in the North Park basin.

"With this valley, you've got close to a million acres that's all sage brush, so the antelope aren't hard to find or spot," said Bodner, pointing out the ease of purchasing an unlimited archery pronghorn license over the counter. "It's a real kick in the pants because it's such a challenge - they can see you no matter how far you are, so you can either set up a blind at a water hole or try to spot and stalk. It's one of the more fun hunting experiences I've ever had."

For the bow hunters with trophy bulls in mind, many will wait until the final week of the archery season - when the muzzle-loaders have gone home and the animals are in peak rut.

"That's when they're talking and whistling the most," Heid said.

But for the muzzle-loading crowd, whose season for deer, elk, bear and moose began Saturday, the excitement of getting to those early shots in the woods with warm and mild weather presents the same set of unique challenges as the bow hunters.

Paul Yonekawa, a road deputy with the Routt County Sheriff's Office and an avid muzzle-loading hunter, had a simple explanation for the impulse to lug his eight-pound replica of a mid-19th century fur trapper's .54-caliber rifle through the forest.

"The requirement is that you need to get a whole lot closer, which makes it more challenging," Yonekawa said.

Regardless of the impulse or the tool, the return of the hunting season brings with it the basic impulse to get back to those primal instincts.

"It's about working for 'em, knowing the country, respecting the elements and the animals and just getting out there," Heid said.

With two cases of hunters starting the season early at the end the week, Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager for the Colorado DOW, reminded hunters to mind the details regarding season dates and licenses. For more details, view http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/ or call the DOW Steamboat office at 870-2197. He also reminded hunters to be careful with the warmer temperatures, to pack out harvested game as soon as possible.

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