Warm season hurts hunts | SteamboatToday.com

Warm season hurts hunts

Experts suggest sticking to higher elevations for luck in finding elk

Lou Rabin has been guiding hunters into the Routt County wilderness for 20 years, and he still takes pride in what his 5 Springs Ranch Guide and Outfitters service offers its customers.

He said he leases private ground for his hunters to prowl. He scouts the areas between trips, and he works tirelessly to set his guys up for good shots.

And he still enjoys nearly every moment.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said, his voice as gravelly as the backcountry roads he travels. “You have to really like this business to do it, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”

But he couldn’t hide his frustration Saturday afternoon. The morning’s hunt had yielded only one elk.

“We saw a fair number,” he said. “We shot one cow elk and should have (shot) another. Other than that, it was not as good as we had hoped. It was not as good as years past.”

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That’s been a common refrain from hunters so far this fall.

A warm fall has hampered the hunt for the second consecutive season.

The warmer weather keeps animals from moving. Instead, they’re staying in more remote areas where hunters simply haven’t had to look in the past.

“People are coming in and saying, ‘We’re not seeing deer where we always see deer. We’re not seeing elk where we always see elk,'” Colorado Division of Wildlife Public Information Officer Randy Hampton said.

Hampton and Rabin agree that part of the problem is last winter’s unusually heavy snowfall total.

Hampton said that snow forced the herds into areas they haven’t been before.

Come spring, they again wandered to new feeding grounds and broke a cycle hunters used to be able to count on.

“It’s been slow in some areas, but what we’ve found is the distribution on animals is very broad,” Hampton said. “Last winter, some were pushed to a severe winter range and didn’t go to their traditional places. We had nine pretty decent winters before last winter, so we had an entire generation of animals out there that had never seen a hard winter.”

Rabin, meanwhile, said he was more concerned that the heavy snow took a toll on the number of elk.

Still, even with a higher mortality rate associated with last winter, the main problem has been getting at the elk.

Hampton and Rabin said hunters would be best off by keeping it simple and returning to the most basic advice.

“We always give this advice, but over and over again we are amazed by the number of people that don’t pay attention. Get off the road,” Hampton said. “Studies show animals are going to be at least one-quarter to one-half mile off a road, and when I say a road, I mean if you drove an ATV up it, you need to be one-half-mile from it.”

He also suggested that hunters concentrate on the higher elevations.

Elk won’t be driven from their high summer grounds until snow covers their supply of food.

“Usually by the third season, people are hunting in the flats, but not this year,” he said. “People have a habit of going where they’ve always hunted before, but that won’t be successful. If it stays warm, you have to get to where the animals are.”

To that end, Rabin offered two more tidbits. First, he said it’s even more important for hunters to scout around possible hunt areas.

Often, that means putting the rifle down and shimmying up a tree.

“Get up in a high place with a good pair of binoculars,” he said. “Stalk them from up there. It’s basic hunting, but people forget that.

“And have patience. None of us have a lot, but we try.”

Tricks of the trade

Longtime outfitter Lou Rabin and Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton offered several tips for frustrated hunters.

– Scout around. Climb a tree or find a high lookout spot, open up a pair of good binoculars and have a look at the area.

– Look up. Check higher elevations, especially if it continues to stay warm. The elk likely haven’t moved much from their summer grazing grounds.

– Ditch the road. Elk don’t use highways to get around, so the best hunting is often found a good, long hike from even the most rarely-trafficked trails and roads.

– Have patience. Even if the animals are more difficult to find, they’re still out there. Keep looking and keep that rifle ready.