Steamboat Springs It was an opportunity Chad Vale had waited for, and he intended to spend every moment possible in the Routt County backcountry doing everything possible to ensure it didn’t go to waste.
“I was going to hunt as much as I could,” he said. “Who knows how long it would have taken me to draw another moose tag.”
Turns out, he didn’t need to wait years to draw again. He didn’t even need to wait all through his hunting season.
Vale, 30, and three friends — Lyman Mayhew, Lee Gittleson and David Schwanke — were riding their horses up the Soda Creek drainage, following a tip that a nice bull moose had been in the area, when they spotted him 200 yards out. Vale was just 45 minutes into his first day of hunting Oct. 5.
“I threw binoculars on him. I could tell he was a bull behind some willows. I saw the spread on the track, and I got pretty excited,” said Vale, who lives in Clark and is a born-and-raised Routt County local.
He approached within 75 yards, figured that was good enough and one shot later had filled a tag he had been trying to draw for seven years.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “A lot of people with a lot more points than I had haven’t been drawn yet.”
It hasn’t been so easy for all hunters this autumn, a season that, like all of them, has been defined by its weather. Usually, hunters this time of year are bemoaning the lack of snow, which often drives elk down from the higher elevation forests to easier-to-access terrain.
That snow came this year, and it made for a great first elk rifle season, Oct. 12 to 16.
“The early seasons, archery and muzzleloader, were par for the course, kind of what you would expect,” said Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Then right at the end of those seasons is when we got those early storms, and for the most part, people were very happy. That weather really got the elk moving. Some people got chased out of the country by the weather, but those who stuck around did really well.
“This was probably one of the better first seasons I’ve seen in the last few years.”
The continuous train of snow storms in the high country has shifted around much of the conventional wisdom, and that had an affect on the second season, Oct. 19 to 27, and it should be a factor in the final two seasons, as well, Saturday to Nov. 10 and Nov. 13 to 17.
Haskins said first-season pressure often will drive the elk down from higher elevation public ground to lower-elevation ground, which mostly is private. Then the reverse happens, more hunting pressure pushing the elk back up, even through some snow.
There’s more than some snow, however.
“In some of our forest areas where we have good snow, they probably have not moved back in,” Haskins said. “A lot of the time, you’ll see the elk going back up into the public lands because there’s no pressure and everyone left. I’m not sure we’ll see that this year.
“If we continue to get snow, we’ll see some of these lower elevation parcels of public land, which generally tend to be smaller, we will see some descent hunting. Private land hunting should be very good, but up at the higher elevations, on the national forest, it will be pretty tough.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9
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