With a week of archery elk season under our belts I have heard of several nice bull elk being taken in the area providing healthy meat for the coming winter months and proving the success of the management process for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife programs.
While a few hunters have reported quick success, others are complaining of finding few elk in the areas they normally hunt. No one can ever guess the reasons elk move around in our huge forested areas but food, safety and numbers of people in the area have an effect on the elk.
Many people surmise that the advent of ATV use in the forests have change the elk behavior and I tend to agree with them as areas once pristine and inaccessible to people are now full of summer riders. Places like Summitville, where we used to see elk from the road, no longer have elk in the pastures there. So something has happened either to the numbers of animals or to their migration and living patterns.
Elk are a secretive creature by habit and will avoid contact with man at all costs. Unlike the mule deer who will stand and stare at passing motorists, the elk generally will lay their heads back and run at the first sign of humans. When hunted, elk have been known to leave an area and run for 25 miles before settling back down. So a place with elk in it one day may not have any in it the following day if they are pushed too hard.
Before the season I was up on the logging roads visiting the various hunting camps set up along the meadows. The camps were full of ATV's and people were whizzing here and there up on the trails and roads in the days before the season. No one had seen any elk and I believe the increased activity just before the opener has a great impact on the animals.
I also have a bear tag this year and have found some sign, but have not seen a bear yet. I recall the first one I harvested two years ago and how thrilling that was. The local taxidermist South of Monte Vista, Keith Daniels, did an excellent rug mount for me and it graces my couch.
Bears are generally nocturnal in nature but at this time of year they can roam up to 20 hours a day in search of food in preparation for winter. One source says they must eat between 18 and 20 pounds of food a day just to stay healthy.
The bears in this area are black bears and generally are not a menace to humans except when they have cubs alongside. Seeing the bears that live in town one would think that hunting them would be a breeze but the bears in the forest are far from easy to find and harvest.
Several methods are employed by successful bear hunters. They include glassing high meadows where there are berry bushes producing a crop and finding a recent carcass of a dead elk or other large animal and waiting for a bear to show up. Baiting and the use of dogs which is legal in most eastern states is not legal.
We will see a continued flow of people into the Rio Grande forests over the next weeks and months as other seasons begin. This will bring in needed monies to the businesses in the area with increased sales of food, lodging, supplies, gas and other things which then multiply in the communities in other ways.
So when you see hunters coming into your areas with their campers and tents, remember they are an integral part of keeping our ecosystem balanced and pay the way for many non-consumptive programs that we all enjoy. From bird watching to hiking to educational programs, all are funded by sportsmen and women who buy licenses each year. This helps to keep the tax burden for those activities low or non-existent and that is a win for us all.