It’s been a big couple weeks for wildlife and hunting in Colorado. A bill passed the Colorado State Senate and House and sits on Governor Polis’ desk that could impact the introduction of wolves into the state by the end of the year. The CPW Commission met on May 3rd and 4th. They adopted regulations for the wolf reintroduction to the state and they also finalized the limited license numbers for this fall. The wolf reintroduction news and notes will be its own blog post coming out here shortly. I wanted to take this opportunity to look at what is happening to some of the tag numbers for this fall and how your ability to pull a tag might be impacted.
Have you heard about how much snow the Rocky Mountain West has gotten this winter and how much it is going to help a couple of reservoirs named after Elwood Mead and Major John Wesley Powell? If you haven’t, have you been living under a rock? That might be some of my regional bias coming through. Water always has been and always will be a big topic in Colorado because there isn’t a ton of it and what we do have quickly flows out of the state. But the snow pack was very healthy this past winter. People with more money than I do or more of a willingness to spend it have enjoyed a lot of fresh powder up at the ski resorts this winter. There are 4 resorts still open in the state and Arapahoe Basin’s closure date isn’t until June 4th .
What does this all mean for hunters? It means a lot of the big game herds in Colorado had a rough winter. And some herds had a very rough winter. This is borne out in the reductions the CPW commission approved last week to license numbers for 2023. I won’t be able to go line by line describing how each hunt code was impacted, but I will try to highlight some of the units most impacted.
Couple baseline items to get out of the way first, not all draw codes saw a decline in license numbers. Some units saw their tag allocations increase. The license numbers that got approved in this most recent commission meeting included license numbers for black bear, deer, elk, moose and pronghorn. I’m a rifle hunter and while I know not all reading this fall into that category, that should give us a decent baseline for how other methods of take were impacted as a result of this tag allocation change. If you’re interested on if your license allocation has changed for the unit you put in for this spring, the full list of changes in license numbers addressed in the commissioner meeting can be found here: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Commission/2023/May/Ch-W-2-As-Approved.pdf. Last thing, the tables I’ll share are pretty self explanatory but anything crossed out were the license numbers for 2022 and the underlined numbers are the updated numbers for 2023. This lets us compare across 2022 and 2023 but does not look back any further than that. Cross your fingers.
If you’re a meat hunter going after does and cows in the northwest corner of Colorado; I feel bad for you son, you’ve got 99 problems but a license ain’t one (most likely). Here’s a look at what is going on in units 11, 12, 13, 23, 24 and 211 for deer in 2023:
Last year there were a combined 1,000 licenses up for grabs for anterless deer in these units. In 2023, there will be 40. For antlered deer, it’s a bit better, 3,110 in 2022 and 1,560 for 2023, a reduction of just under 50% when compared with the 96% cut for doe tags.
You ready to look at elk or was looking behind door #1 bad enough? Thankfully, this is an instance of me giving you the worser news first. (Quick side note, I wasn't sure worser was a word. It used to be and also was used by Shakespeare. I'm not saying I'm Shakespeare but if he could use it, I don't see why I can't. End of side note) I’m not saying what is coming next is good news, it’s just not as bad as what you’re already seen.
A 90% reduction on those first rifle cow tags in 11 is significant. Those tags do normally end up on the leftover list but I do not see that happening this year. The last couple graphs just give you the lay of the land as it relates to license numbers overall for limited rifle tags for elk and deer in 2023.
It’ll be a bit of shock at the end of the month for us all to see what we did and did not draw as we reset to new realities on the ground after a rough winter. On the plus side, if you are lucky enough to draw a tag in a unit with a reduced license load, you should find more of it to yourself even if you won’t be chasing quite as many animals. Here’s to not as harsh a winter this time around and some luck in the draw. Cause we’re going to need more of it than in years past.