Colorado still a big game hunter’s paradise

RBC I Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s recently released 2011 big game harvest statistics show that the Centennial State continues to offer some of the best and most diverse big game hunting in the country.
In 2011, Colorado hunters once again harvested more elk than in any other state. With an estimated 280,000 elk, Colorado is home to the world’s largest elk herd. Unlimited over-the-counter elk tags, a robust deer herd, plentiful pronghorn and more than 23 million acres of public land all combine to make Colorado a prime destination for the big game hunter.  
“Colorado really is the land of opportunity when it comes to big game hunting,” said Rick Cables, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The combination of accessible public and private lands hunting opportunities, over-the-counter elk licenses and a large number of top notch outfitters provide our citizens and hunters from across the nation with unparalleled opportunities.  We are lucky to live here.”
Hunters harvested about 43,400 Colorado elk in 2011, according to state wildlife biologists. While this was down about 9.5 percent from 2010, the harvest was still tops in the country by a large margin.
Big Game Manager Andy Holland said that the reduced harvest was not unexpected as cow elk licenses were cut in 2011 in response to analysis that showed some elk herds were approaching their population objectives. CPW manages elk herds primarily though the issuance of antlerless or cow licenses.  
“Our herd objectives reflect a balance between the ability of the habitat to support elk herds and societal tolerance for impacts caused by elk,” Holland said. “As we near some of those population objectives, we’re starting to hear from hunters in many parts of the state that they would like to see more elk.” 
Holland noted that the harvest of bull elk remained about the same as previous years, with roughly half coming from hunters who bought an over-the-counter tag. Colorado is unique in offering an unlimited number of over-the-counter tags that are good in any of 92 hunt units.   
Deer hunters also had another good year in 2011, with an estimated 33,200 deer harvested. About 47 percent of rifle hunters filled their tag last year. Demand for deer hunting remained strong, with almost all licenses sold. While all deer hunting in Colorado is by a limited license, most deer hunts can be drawn with 1 preference point or less. The growing populations of mule deer and white-tails on the eastern plains have also created new opportunities for many hunters.  
The estimate of 11,700 pronghorn harvested in 2011 almost matched the all-time high point of 12,000 in 2010. With southeastern Colorado’s abundant pronghorn herds and the extension of the Big Game Access Program that provided access to 143,000 private acres in 2011, pronghorn hunters are looking at another good year in 2012.  
Because of the large number of big game hunters in the state, Colorado Parks and Wildlife does not require hunters to register their harvest on most species. Instead, the agency utilizes phone and on-line surveys to establish harvest estimates. The statistics are extensively validated and audits have shown that the process is quite accurate.  
Hunter harvest statistics are released annually in March as an aid to big game hunters applying for Colorado’s limited license draw.  Other reports show how many licenses were available in all big game management units throughout Colorado, how many hunters applied for those limited licenses, how many of those hunters were successful drawing and how many preference points it took to be successful.