Archive for category Colorado Mule Deer Hunting

Gunnison Herd

Posted by on Sunday, 29 June, 2008

The Daily Sentinel

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

GUNNISON — You smell the deer before you see them. Tucked up in the big rocks, flopped among the riparian downfall of cottonwoods and willows, or simply lying on an open slope, legs sprawled like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

These are the remains of the deer that died around the Gunnison Basin during the past winter, an unpleasant but totally natural extension of what happens when Mother Nature takes a hand in managing wildlife populations.

No one will ever know exactly how many of deer and elk died this winter in the vast basin. The elk likely fared as elk always do in winter: They get by. Elk are big enough to survive a rough snow year, although there is some mortality every winter.

…“Only two things kill an elk — a bullet or a bumper.”

Deer, however, are the pawns in this life-and-death chess game. Fragile, thin-skinned, not big enough or strong enough to plow through deep snow and with a frustrating tendency to gather in small groups in isolated places.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife estimated there were 20,000 mule deer in the Gunnison Basin going into the winter. By the end of the feeding program, the DOW estimated 9,400 were receiving a daily ration of feed.

The fate of the rest? That’s part of why DOW terrestrial biologist Scott Wait, DOW seasonal biologist Leslie Spicer, and a curious reporter are hiking the steep hills west of Gunnison looking for deer carcasses.

Our efforts, and those of several similar teams of monitors, is to offer some statistical data about winter mortality, an effort to indicate how many deer perished in what was reported as the snowiest winter the basin has seen since record-keeping began in 1915-16.

The surveys were relatively simple. Half-mile squares were plotted with Global Positioning System accuracy on topographic maps. Each day during the weeklong survey, teams of at least two people would walk one or more plots, counting all the deer they could see along a series of compass-line transects that covered the square.

Walk a half mile, move a quarter-mile, walk a half-mile back, repeat.

Monitors counted only the carcasses seen from the transect line. While some carcasses might have been missed, it’s surprising what you can see (and smell) when looking for a dead deer.

That initial transect was at the Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area, which was expected to have the highest carcass count of all transects. Of the 131 feeding sites around the area, Beaver Creek was the busiest, feeding an estimated 450 deer per day at the height of the program.

Normal winter deer mortality is about 15-18 percent, according to the DOW. Given the severity of the past winter, you might expect deaths to hover around the high end of the estimate.

We hadn’t reached the GPS starting point when we found (smelled) the first carcass.

“It’s out of the transect so we can’t count it,” Wait said. “I think we’ll find others.”

Sometimes the carcass would be up in the rocks, and Wait surmised the deer died huddled next to sun-warmed boulders or while scraping for forage revealed by melting snow. Sometimes the bodies were scattered on an open slope, simply toppled over where death overtook them.

Most of the carcasses were found near the creek, where steep slopes fell into a creek bottom jammed with jackstrawed trees and leg-trapping willows. Any winter-weakened deer that somehow fell or slipped into the jam of logs would have little chance of escape. It was in those tight quarters we found most of the 89 carcasses we counted on the transect.

That’s nearly 20 percent of the deer reportedly being fed, high but not way outside the estimate. And given the conditions, not surprising, either.

“Deer will use willows and trees for thermal cover and some of these probably were looking for some relief when they got down here,” Spicer said. “But you can see how the willows were bent over from the weight of the snow, so there probably wasn’t much shelter down here.”

There were a lot of fawns, which was expected, but few mature bucks, which runs counter to the theory that older bucks, stressed by rut and running nearly on empty, are among the first to die in a tough winter.

Other counters may have found more buck carcasses but those results aren’t yet available.

The other three surveys in which I participated, two along the deer-rich slopes of Cochetopa Creek east of Gunnison and the last in the Hartman Rocks area south of town, turned up very few carcasses. On the Cochetopa, one of those surveys had four carcasses, the other had three.

At Hartman Rocks, also a feeding site, there were four deer carcasses and one pronghorn carcass.

The final tally won’t be exact, since exactitude is a rarity in wildlife management anyway. But it may help biologists better understand the health of the deer herds and equally important, the health of the land.

No one yet is drawing any conclusions. But it’s likely thousands of deer survived the winter thanks to the efforts of the DOW and the diligent volunteers who went out for 130 straight days to toss down bags of feed. Also, thousands more deer survived by finding south-facing slopes where snow cover was lighter.

But many deer died, and in response to local outcry, the Colorado Wildlife Commission drastically reduced doe hunting licenses for this fall in the Gunnison Basin.

Colorado Limited License Drawing Deadline – April Fools Day

Posted by on Thursday, 3 April, 2008

Colorado Hunt Application Deadline 

The limited license draw deadline is April 1. A new resource for you, the Colorado Hunting Planner (PDF), is a one-page summary of season dates, fees and application dates and deadlines. It can be saved and printed for easy reference as you plan your hunt. Also available is a map of GMUs highlighting Colorado’s 3.3 millions acres of wilderness! (7.1MB, PDF) For more information on season dates for 2008 – 2009, see the 5-yr season structure document, which was adopted in November 2004.

Colorado App Deadline Approaching

Posted by on Saturday, 22 March, 2008

Colorado Mule Deer Hunt Application Deadline

April 1 is the deadline to apply for Colorado Mule Deer


Gunnison Basin Mule Deer Feeding Program

Posted by on Thursday, 28 February, 2008

Colorado Feeding Mule Deer Western States hit with Heavy Snows

This winter has brought cold weather and deep snow to much of our Mule Deer country. Some of the states are refusing to feed the deer for good reason, and, I might add, taking flack for it from the likes of the Mule Deer Foundation. I could go into a list of reasons why Mule Deer shouldn’t be fed, but instead, I will talk about the feeding program in Colorado.

There are supposedly 21,000 mule deer in the Gunnison Basin. Of those, about 7,000 are being fed. So far, 11% of the ones being fed have reportedly died. More on the way. I don’t yet know mortality rates for the ones that aren’t being fed. The local economy depends heavily on hunting, so between local businesses and the Mule Deer Foundation, the governor has been pressured into allocating $1.7m (without counting donations and volunteerism) for feeding mule deer. How many deer will they save? We’ll see. It is at times like this when special hunts should be considered.

This much is certain: Colorado’s deer herd has been a long time making a come-back, and is still not fully recovered. It would be a shame to save wintering deer and then have them eaten by predators before they could be hunted. Even if some of the deer can be saved from exposure, many of them will be eaten by predators. The older/mature bucks will be hit the hardest. If $1.7m were invested in predator eradication – particularly if it went to hunter/trapper bounties, it would be far more effective in preserving a local economy and a deer herd.

NRA Warning regarding Colorado Bills

Posted by on Tuesday, 5 February, 2008

Colorado bills affect hunting

Bills Proposed to Limit Hunting Access! Several bills have been proposed in the Colorado Legislature that seek to severely restrict and limit the access to Colorado’s sportsmen. House Bill 1069 presumes all unmarked trails are closed to motorized vehicles. This bill would restrict access to hunters using ATVs and create penalties for infractions. House Bill 1137, sponsored by State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg (R-65), would force the Division of Wildlife to sell an equal amount of public hunting land for every purchase, grant, or gift of hunting land it inherits – an anti-“No-Net Loss” bill. Finally, House Bill 1096, introduced by State Representative Debbie Stafford (D-40) would prevent anyone to hunt behind an enclosure, no matter how large the enclosure. The language is so broadly written that it will eliminate hunting on all fenced properties, regardless of their size.

More on Colorado Mule Deer

Posted by on Friday, 25 January, 2008

Here is an update on the Colorado Gunnison herd:Mule Deer having difficult time in Gunnison Basin

The Colorado Governor is apparently allocating $1.5m for emergency feeding. The DOW has about $400k and is accepting donations. The DOW has recruited 250 volunteers, and hopes to feed 8,000 of the estimated 21,000 mule deer in the area. Helecopter flights are set to identify mule deer locations. Roads around the area have been closed by the BLM.  Snow machines have packed down snow tracks so snowmobilers can access feeding areas. Mule Deer in other areas of the state are being monitored, but do not appear to need help at this time. Some deer herds in Wyoming are also in dire condition, but I am unaware of any plans to feed them.

DOW photos

Gunnison basin Mule Deer DOW picture

Quote from DOW rep Elderkin:

Deer in Gunnison are being fed “a specially formulated high-energy wafer developed by DOW scientists during the 1980s,” the DOW said.

The DOW estimates there are about 11,000 mule deer in the northern part of Garfield County, north of the Colorado River. In the Roaring Fork Valley from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, the DOW estimates there are about 16,500 mule deer. Another population south of Glenwood Canyon is estimated at 6,000.Mule Deer in Colorado 2008

Snow covering up big game animal’s food may not be a problem forever. Elderkin said this is the first winter in seven years that any amount of snow cover has lasted more than a few days.

“I’m sure it has something to do with global warming, but I don’t know,” he said. “As far as what I can see around here, I don’t think there’s any argument about global warming.

Feed Mule Deer Ad

Posted by on Wednesday, 16 January, 2008

Feed mule deer

Donations to help feed mule deer on Colorado’s Gunnison Basin are being sought by the Mule Deer Foundation.

Heavy snow and cold weather have created harsh conditions, preventing mule deer from reaching their normal winter food sources. The Colorado Division of Wildlife began feeding them Jan. 13 at 60 emergency sites.

A $50.00 donation will feed 15 to 18 deer for a week. To help, go to or call 888-375-3337.

Colorado DOW decides to feed Mule Deer

Posted by on Thursday, 10 January, 2008

According to the Denver Post, the Colorado DOW has decided to feed 21,000 mule deer wintering in the Gunnison Basin. The DOW claims that this is Colorado’s largest mule deer herd. Deep snow and extreme cold are making life difficult for the mule deer in 2008.Colorado Mule Deer Feeding Program

There are good reasons not to feed deer, such as increased predation and disease due to crowding. But, there are two other reasons that are even more significant: 1) Feeding develops a dependency; and 2) Often the deer die anyway because their digestive systems cannot adapt fast enough. Very often, a lot of money is spent in administrative expense and the deer get too little, too late.

In order to feed the deer, the elk wintering in the same area will need to be coaxed away with hay. So, both mule deer and elk will need to be fed in order to feed the deer.

The Colorado DOW apparently believes that, if the mule deer aren’t fed, half of them may die and it could take up to eight years for them to recover from a massive die-off. In the absence of predators, though, the deer herd could recover much quicker.

Oil Companies buy Colorado DOW, Now everything is OK

Posted by on Wednesday, 19 December, 2007

From the Denver Post:


GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado Division of Wildlife on Thursday presented awards to several energy companies, all of whom have operations in Garfield County, for their work to “protect wildlife and wildlife habitat”.

“We try to work cooperatively with these companies,” said Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the DOW. “Most of the time they come to us and ask ‘What can we do better?’ It is our hope that the industry will continue to turn to us for that wildlife expertise.”

The two largest energy operators in the county, Williams Production RMT and EnCana Oil and Gas (USA), both received awards Thursday.

State officials cited EnCana for its work to provide more than $1 million to fund DOW studies of wildlife, including the greater sage-grouse and mule deer in the Piceance Basin. The state agency also lauded the company’s efforts to support DOW law enforcement efforts to reduce poaching, according to the DOW.

The company also has completed “significant baseline wildlife research on the company’s North Parachute Ranch property, where they have applied management plans to address greater sage-grouse, grazing and weed management and land restoration,” a DOW statement said.

“We are honored,” said Doug Hock, spokesman for EnCana. “Our employees care about wildlife. We care about the same values that people live here and recreate here. We are always looking to partner with groups like the DOW to find ways protect and preserve wildlife.”

Williams was also honored for its “commitment to wildlife research and the DOW Hunter Outreach program, including providing more than $450,000 to the Central Piceance Basin wildlife research project,” the DOW statement said. Other Williams’ efforts the state recognized was its work to obtain water rights in 2007 and construct an irrigation system to “provide water to critical deer range in the Rulison, Parachute and Grand Valley gas fields.”

Other companies and their honored efforts, according to the statement released Thursday, included:

• Shell Oil Company for an agreement that keeps 18,000 acres of Shell land in the Piceance Basin open for public hunting through a 10-year hunting lease with the DOW for $1 a year.

• ConocoPhillips for providing funding and support for a research technician who worked on sage grouse research.

• Chevron for allowing DOW sage-grouse researchers access to the company’s private lands around Skinner Ridge.

Colorado Teen Bags Monster Buck

Posted by on Friday, 14 December, 2007

Kyle Lopez, 14, of Divide, Colorado – killed this buck during the 2007 season:

He tagged a trophy buck that, according to reports, has scored more than 303 inches net Boone and Crockett and will be the largest buck ever taken by a youth as well as the largest mule deer taken in more than 20 years. The buck has 41 points and a 37 2/8 inch outside spread. The main frame alone is more than 207 inches with more than 100 inches of nontypical points.