The first elk hunting season is nearly five months away, but hunters who want to try their hand at bagging a big one have to bag a big-game hunting tag first. These hunter success stories were on display last fall at B&L Quality Taxidermy in Steamboat Springs.

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The first elk hunting season is nearly five months away, but hunters who want to try their hand at bagging a big one have to bag a big-game hunting tag first. These hunter success stories were on display last fall at B&L Quality Taxidermy in Steamboat Springs.

Hunting season in Steamboat area could be big

2010 big-game tag deadline is Tuesday for season beginning Aug. 28

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2010 fees

Game Resident Nonresident

Elk (either sex) $49 $544

Elk (cow) $49 $354

Deer $34 $329

Bear $44 $354

Youth deer or elk $13.75 $103.75

Mountain goat $254 $1,819

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep $254 $1,819

Desert bighorn sheep $254 $1,214

Moose $254 $1,819

2010 big-game hunting seasons

Archery

Deer and elk: Aug. 28 to Sept. 26

Moose: Sept. 11 to 26

Black bear: Sept. 11 to 19

Muzzleloading rifle

Elk and moose: Sept. 11 to 19

High-country antlered deer: Sept. 4 to 12 or Sept. 11 to 19, depending on unit

Black bear: Sept. 11 to 19

Rifle

Separate limited elk: Oct. 16 to 20

Combined deer and elk: Oct. 23 to 31, Nov. 6 to 14

Combined limited deer and elk: Nov. 17 to 21

Elk: Nov. 22 to Jan. 31, 2011

Moose: Oct. 1 to 14

Black bear: Sept. 2 to 30 and concurrent with deer and elk rifle seasons

Online

To apply for a tag, visit this site

— There are a few qualifiers.

It has to continue to warm up, but not too much, and it has to rain, but not too much.

It has to be a nice summer that turns into a cold, snowy fall.

Colorado Division of Wild­life spokesman Randy Hampton acknowledged all the potential pitfalls Wednesday as he looked ahead at the state’s elk and deer hunting season, still five months away.

“Everything points to 2010 being a good year to be a big-game hunter in Colorado,” Hampton said, “but it’s a long time until hunting season.”

The season still may be a long way off, but the deadline to apply for big-game tags isn’t. Applications are due Tuesday and can be submitted online or in person at the U.S. Forest Service office at 925 Weiss Drive in Steamboat Springs. Licenses for residents cost $49 for elk and $34 for deer.

The season begins Aug. 28 with a monthlong window for archery hunting. Muzzleloading rifle season opens Sept. 11 for elk, and four separate elk rifle seasons run through October and November. The first, for elk only, runs Oct. 16 to 20. Combined elk and deer seasons then are set for Oct. 23 to 31, Nov. 6 to 14 and Nov. 17 to 21.

A late elk season wraps up the hunt, from Nov. 22 to Jan. 31, 2011.

Hampton said those dates were among a few things that give him confidence for the coming hunt.

Each window falls about a week later than it did last fall, which increases the chances for cold weather that drives the animals down from the high country and into more accessible, hunter-friendly terrain.

It’s not a DOW response to global warming, he said, just a lucky break.

“The calendar moves around year to year. Last season was as early as it could fall, and this is as late as it could fall,” Hampton said.

Mother Nature will be key to realizing that potential advantage, and, as always, will control virtually all aspects of the hunt.

The 2008 and 2009 hunts yielded below-average takes, in many ways because of the weather.

In 2008, hunters struggled to find animals after the previous winter’s massive snow accumulation left ponds and creeks with an unusually abundant supply of water. That meant elk and deer didn’t have to resort to the well-known watering holes they had frequented in drought years.

Last year, meanwhile, warm weather through most of the season’s four windows meant animals were in no hurry to come down from the higher elevations, and a rainy May and June made for similar circumstances to 2008.

That all wasn’t without its advantages. The wide availability of water throughout the past two years helped build a strong, healthy collection of elk and deer.

“That weather created a tremendous forage base, the best we’d seen in a long time,” Hampton said. “All that grass and brush grew like crazy during the summer. It was bad for hunters because the animals were spread fairly widely, but good because we saw tremendous antler growth.”

As frustrating as some of those aspects have been for hunters in the past two years, it could all work to their favor this fall.

Last season’s warm weather and spotty hunting success could lead to a glut of fat and happy animals.

The mild winter Routt County just waltzed through, meanwhile, likely didn’t claim much in terms of winter kill.

Combined with a later start to the season, the pieces could all line up.

“Of course, it all depends on Mother Nature,” Hampton said.

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