Steamboat Springs Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins confirmed Thursday that two moose have been shot illegally in Routt County this fall and a third was killed in neighboring Jackson County. They are among 11 moose that have been shot illegally in Colorado during the first two big game hunting seasons this year, according to the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.
The department issued a news release at the halfway point of the big game season urging hunters to take care not to mistake moose for elk. But Haskins was dubious about the possibility the bull moose killed on Rabbit Ears Pass early in the first season and another in Big Red Park in North Routt involved mistaken identity.
“Both of them were shot right out in the open,” Haskins said. “I’m not so sure they were mistaken for elk. When I’ve seen moose in the wild, I might have mistaken one in the trees for a dark horse, but I’ve never mistaken a moose for an elk.”
The bull moose killed illegally on Rabbit Ears Pass was in the vicinity of the Harrison Creek Road on the south side of U.S. Highway 40 opposite the turnoff to Dumont Lake.
The moose population in Routt County has grown to the extent that they were a common sight in winter 2010-11 in the city of Steamboat Springs. Parks and Wildlife officers counted 30 moose in Game Management Unit 14 north of Steamboat in an aerial survey in January. And for the first time, permits to hunt two bull moose and two cows were issued in Unit 14, Haskins said. As of Thursday, he was aware that two bulls and one cow had been harvested but did not know about the success of the fourth hunter.
“During the first season (Oct. 15 to 19), we had reports that hunters were seeing more moose on Buffalo Pass and in Elk Park than they were seeing elk,” Haskins said. “And I was seeing the same thing.”
That is attributable in part to the tendency of elk to congregate in large herds, he said. When that’s the case, a relative few hunters might spot 150 elk in one herd while other hunters fail to spot any.
A news release from Parks and Wildlife reported that in 2010 its personnel investigated 14 cases of moose being shot either mistakenly or intentionally. Eleven hunters were cited for poaching or negligence. Haskins said his office has been unable to cite anyone with a game violation in connection with the three moose shot illegally in this region.
“We don’t have any leads on any of them,” he said. “We try to collect physical evidence — bullets, shell casings — or we photograph any footprints. But in the case of moose that have been shot illegally, a lot of times (hunters) don’t even approach the carcass.”
Bob Thompson, acting chief of law enforcement for Parks and Wildlife, said the burden of discerning moose from other big game animals, most often elk, is on the hunter.
“It is the obligation of every hunter to positively identify the target,” Thompson wrote in a news release. “It’s the first and most important thing we teach in hunter safety class. There is no excuse for shooting the wrong animal.”
Moose typically are dark brown all over their bodies, and elk have a buff colored trunk that contrasts with darker hair on the neck and chest. The difference in antler conformation is also readily apparent.
Moose and elk frequently are found in the same kinds of habitat, but Parks and Wildlife Big Game Manager Andy Holland said in the same news release that there are notable behavioral differences that can tip off hunters. Elk have a stronger flight response than moose do.
“Elk don’t stand around and watch you,” Holland wrote. “If it sees you or smells you and doesn’t run way, it’s probably not an elk.”
Hunting elk without a license
Haskins said hunters who commit a violation in the pursuit of deer and elk typically are more likely to turn themselves in than is a hunter who illegally shoots a moose. Parks and Wildlife is more apt to show lenience when violators contact the department on their own initiative, Haskins confirmed.
He issued matching $1,500 citations to a father and son from out of state for hunting without a license on the opening day of the first big game season. They came to his attention as the result of a trespassing call, he said.
Hunters who see suspicious activity in the field can call the District Wildlife Office in Steamboat Springs at 970-870-2197. Or call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Callers may remain anonymous.
The third big game season runs from Nov. 5 to 13, and the fourth season runs from Nov. 16 to 20.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com