|Overall, deer and elk herds in southwest Colorado are thriving. Hunters will have plenty of opportunity to harvest an animal. Hunters who are patient and willing to hike into tough terrain could be rewarded with a nice trophy buck or a good-sized bull.|
During the 2005 season warm weather throughout the region kept the elk up high and in dark timber. That made hunting difficult and harvest numbers were down. Those who walked into rugged areas, however, were successful.
If the weather pattern is more typical – changing to cold with snow earlier in the season – elk hunting should be excellent. With cold weather and snow, elk will start to move to lower elevations. Continued...
But throughout the southwest, hunters must be willing to venture into heavily wooded and steep areas. Elk are very wary and will move into hard-to-find places as hunting pressure begins.
A bull elk grazes in Colorado’s high country. Colorado is the only state where hunters can purchase over-the-counter licenses for elk.
Photo Courtesy: Colorado Division of Wildlife
The southwest region is divided into four areas and each has several distinct sections for hunting. GMU stands for Game Management Units. Refer to the Colorado Big Game brochure for GMU locations.
The Durango area covers from the Four Corners east to Wolf Creek Pass and north to the Continental Divide. The terrain of the area includes harsh desert, alpine meadows, oak brush, pinon/juniper forest, spruce/fir and aspen forest and lots of riparian areas. The Weminuche Wilderness – Colorado largest – is located in the heart of the district.
Habitat and terrain are ideal for deer and elk. Some of the best deer and elk hunting in the state can be found in most of the Game Management Units throughout this area.
Mesa Verde - GMUs 72, 73, 74, 741
Deer are abundant in these units and hunting is excellent. A lot of private land exists in these units, so be aware of GMU and land ownership boundaries. As the weather changes, deer will move from their summer homes at the high elevations in the north to their winter range to the south.
Most elk are found in GMU 74 in the higher elevation areas. Hunters willing to venture into rugged, remote terrain could be rewarded. A lot of country is available around Engineer Mountain, throughout the Hermosa Creek Drainage west of the Durango Mountain Resort ski area, and up Junction Creek just northwest of Durango. Unit 73 is also promising for elk, especially during the first season. Access is good to public land on the northern side of the unit. Hunting pressure increases throughout the season.
GMU 741 is dominated by private land. Elk hunting is poor in GMU 72.
San Juan Basin - GMUs 75, 77, 78, 751, 771
The deer herd in these units is growing. Some bucks are reaching maturity so there is a possibility of finding trophy-size animals. Hunters harvested numerous large bucks in this unit during the 2005 season. Deer prefer elevations below 10,000 feet. The areas offering the best deer hunting on public lands are: the Piedra River drainage, the mountains between the Piedra and Los Pinos rivers, and lands southeast of Pagosa Springs. If weather changes at higher elevations the deer will move from north to south.
The elk herd in these units is growing and hunting will be good. Hunters still must be prepared to walk into remote and heavily-forested areas to find animals. Do not expect to see elk from roads. Elk prefer higher elevations until the weather turns severe. In the early seasons, stick to the spruce/fir and aspen forests. As snow accumulates, elk will move south and into lower elevations. In late seasons, ponderosa pine forests and oak brush are usually more productive.
This area is dominated by the Uncompahgre Plateau and the north slope of the San Juan Mountain Range. Terrain varies widely and deer and elk are well distributed throughout the area.
Uncompahgre Plateau - GMUs 61, 62
Numerous roads provide easy access to the plateau, but many canyons are accessible only on foot and horseback. . Archery and muzzleloaders should concentrate on U.S. Forest Service lands on the north end of the plateau. The highest success rates for bull hunters occur in GMU 62 during first season, but expect hunting pressure there. Animals usually move to lower elevation private lands as hunting pressure increases. GMU 61 is managed as a quality deer and quality elk unit.
During the past five years, deer hunting has improved greatly in GMU 62. The number and size of bucks is increasing throughout the plateau. During the early season deer are concentrated in the aspen and oak brush. As hunting pressure increases they will move lower into the pinon and juniper. By the third season many have moved to lower elevations. Hunting is also improving in GMU 61.
Elk are plentiful and widely distributed across the plateau. Most stay high until hunting pressure increases; then they move to lower areas in less accessible areas. To be successful hunters are advised to walk well off the roads. Hunters have found the most success in GMU 61. Also, in GMU 61 you cannot hunt with an over-the-counter tag.
If your tag is for GMU 62 be sure that you are hunting on the northeast side of the divide road.
Cimarron River Drainage - GMUs 64, 65
These units include some of the most diverse terrain in Colorado, from 4,700 feet in the dry desert lands near Delta to 14,309-foot Uncompahgre Peak. Warm weather at the low elevations will cause meat to spoil very quickly, so be prepared to pack meat out quickly. Hunters must be willing to walk well away from roads if they expect to be successful. Hunters willing to enter challenging terrain can hunt in the Uncompahgre or Mount Sneffels wilderness areas at the south end of GMU 65.
During the last few years deer hunting has improved significantly in these units. More bucks are growing to maturity. No doe hunting is allowed in these units, and there is no buck hunting during the fourth season. For the best bucks hunt high elevations early.
Go lower as the season progresses. Deer move lower and to private land as hunting pressure increases. During the second season deer favor aspen/oak brush/service berry areas; they move lower to pinon/juniper during the third season. Access is relatively easy, but rewards can be great for hunters willing to go to higher and more challenging terrain.
Because of the extent of wilderness, elk find plenty of lush meadows for summer grazing. Consequently, the elk herd is stable and hunting is rated as good. The elk will stay high until hunting pressure or weather force them down. If you hunt in the wilderness areas, beware that they are bordered by numerous private ranches – especially near Ridgway and Dallas Divide.
Dolores – Dry Creek Basin - GMUs 70, 71, 711
Vehicle access is easy in these areas; consequently hunting pressure is heavy on public lands. Also, remember that travel in the Lizard Head Wilderness Area in GMU 71 is by foot and horseback only.
Deer are abundant in the area and overall hunting will be good. The chances of seeing a mature buck are rated from fair to good. In the early seasons deer are evenly distributed above 8,000 feet. They move lower quickly as hunting pressure increases, and generally from east to west. As the weather grows cold, deer will concentrate in Dry Creek Basin, Disappointment Valley and along the Dolores River. GMU 70 in Dry Creek Basin is recommended in the third season.
Elk are abundant and distributed widely throughout these units. Generally, GMU 71 is better early in the season; and GMU 711 is better as the season progresses. During the season the animals move from north to south and from higher elevations to lower elevations. Animals will move quickly into thick aspen and mountain shrub when hunting pressure become apparent. The opportunity to see a mature bull is only fair.
This area covers a vast, little populated area that extends from the Grand Mesa on the north, to the Continental Divide on the south. Parts of five wilderness areas comprise this area. Terrain and habitat are excellent for deer and elk.
Gunnison Basin - GMUs 54, 55, 551, 66 and 67
These units have recently been managed for older-age-class bucks; consequently, relatively few licenses are available and a hunter will need preference points to draw a license. Hunter success for those who draw a license has been above average during recent years. The herd is distributed throughout the vast basin. Excellent deer hunting opportunities are found in all five game management units. Hunt higher ground during the early season and monitor weather conditions. Deer generally start moving to lower elevations in mid- to late October.
The elk herd is healthy and hunting should be good. Hunters will have the best luck by getting away from roads. Elk will find places where hunting pressure is light, so be prepared to hunt canyons or thick timber. Elk hunting is limited in GMUs 66 and 67, and licenses are issued through the annual drawing. Some older age-class- bulls are available in these units and pressure is generally lighter than the northern units.
Grand Mesa - GMUs 411, 52, 521
The Grand Mesa has a wide variety of terrain. From the spruce, fir and aspen forests up to 11,000 feet, to the pinon-juniper woodlands at about 4,800 feet. Weather can vary as widely as the terrain. Rain and snow can yield quickly to sunny skies and hot temperatures. Motorized access is good. Please respect road closures. Hunting pressure is heavy.
Deer are found on forest land and higher elevation private land during October. Some deer stay in lower elevation agricultural lands year around. In late October or early November, deer generally migrate to lower elevation as the weather cools and snow starts to accumulate. Battlements can be good in late season, but the terrain is rugged. There are a few large bucks in this area, and overall hunting is rated as good.
The elk herd is well distributed and hunting is rated as good. Most stay at high elevations – above 8,500 feet in thick timber and oak brush. There is no migration during the hunting seasons, but as hunters arrive the elk will move to remote areas. Successful hunters move well away from established roads, especially in GMU 521. Some older-age-class bulls are found throughout these units. Hunting pressure is lowest during the limited first season.
Crawford-Smith Fork - GMUs 53, 63
Winter weather is almost guaranteed in this area which borders the high country of the West Elk Wilderness Area. Altitude ranges from 5,400 feet near Hotchkiss to more than 12,000 feet in the wilderness. The range in elevations and the topography create volatile weather at all times of year. Be prepared for hot and cold temperatures and snow. These GMUs contain abundant public land: 90 percent of GMU 53; 60 percent of GMU 63. When snow starts to fall, herds move quickly to lower elevations to the west. Hunters should be prepared to hunt in steep, difficult terrain. Packing an animal out in this area is challenging. Do not expect to be able to move a vehicle close to a kill site.
The deer herd is well distributed throughout both GMUs. If the weather is warm, hunt at higher elevations. As the season progresses and hunting pressure increases, the deer will move to lower elevations in GMU 63 where private land is abundant. Hunting is good on public lands on the west side of GMU 63 if the weather is dry. In GMU 53, try the Chain Mountains, Browning Ridge, Land’s End Peak and Smith Mountain.
If there is no snow, elk are well distributed throughout the high elevations of the GMUs. Hunters will be most successful by walking along transition areas up high. By November, animals will start moving down to lower elevations and onto private land in GMU 63 as hunting pressure increases. Expect heavy hunting pressure in the Black Mesa area of GMU 63.
MONTE VISTA AREA
This area is contained in the vast San Luis Valley. The valley is ringed by high peaks and wilderness, the valley floor is flat and one of the most productive agricultural areas in Colorado. Elk are plentiful but move quickly to private land as soon as hunting pressure becomes apparent. This area is not renowned for its deer hunting.
San Luis Valley - GMUs 68, 681, 682, 82, 83, 791
Overall, the deer herd size is beginning to grow again and deer hunting is expected to continue to improve. The quality of bucks is improving in GMUs 68 and 681. Buck quality in GMU 82 is improving, but slowly.
Elk hunting is challenging in these units. Animals are spread throughout a vast area and respond quickly to hunting pressure by moving onto private land, national wildlife refuge land, to the Great Sand Dunes area and into heavy cover in steep and rugged terrain. For success, hunt far away from roads and ATV trails. GMUs 68 and 681 are dominated by public land and receive considerable pressure. Apply for a first season limited license to avoid crowds. GMU 82 holds more rugged terrain and fewer hunters venture into the high-elevation areas.
Rio Grande Valley - GMUs – 76, 79, 80, 81
Weather is the dominant factor in the valley. Moderate amounts of snow will cause herds to move quickly out of the high terrain of the mountain ranges to lower elevations. Expanses of shrub land make hunting very challenging.
The deer herd is relatively small in this area and remains well under population objectives. Mature bucks are becoming more available since limiting buck licenses in 1999. Deer hunting, however, is rated only as fair because of overall population numbers.
Overall elk hunting will be good. These units hold excellent winter and summer habitat, so elk are active and spread throughout the units. Heavy hunting pressure pushes animals away from roads. Hunters should venture as far from roads as possible on foot or on horseback.
Even though the units are limited draw, hunters should not expect to see trophy bulls in GMUs 76 and 79. The units, however, do offer hunters the opportunity to see many branch-antlered bulls in areas with few hunters.
For archery hunters, an unlimited number of elk license are available for GMU 79.