Moose and Bear Hunting Information
Here is some information on hunting moose and the local heard.
Current Population Estimate: between 350 and 450 animals in the Upper Rio Grande (GMU 76) and Gunnison Units (GMUs 66/67); 20-100 in other areas of the San Juans west of the Continental Divide; and 15-50 in other parts of the San Luis Valley.
Population Objectives: (1) Keep the population small enough to avoid excessive damage to willow stands; (2) maximize hunting opportunity for cows and mature bulls by maintaining high productivity in the herd; and (3) provide adequate opportunities for viewing. Maintaining between 350-500 animals (post-hunt) in GMUs 66 and 76 should allow us to achieve these multiple objectives. As permits are added for other GMUs, the overall population objective will be raised by the number determined suitable for the new GMU(s).
Sex Ratio Objective: Insure sufficient bulls for successful early breeding in order to minimize cows being bred during their 2nd or 3rd estrus, and to provide for quality hunting. Ideally, we desire a post-season ratio of between 55 and 65 bulls:100 cows. Maintain an average antler spread of more than 40 inches in harvested bulls to maintain hunter satisfaction and also provide viewing opportunities for mature bulls.
Changes from recent management: Moose in southwest Colorado have been allowed to increase following a series of transplants in the early 1990s, with very limited hunting first allowed in 1999. A USDA Forest Service Environmental Assessment (Appendix A) established an initial population goal of 350 moose in the Upper Rio Grande Basin. We don’t know if that level has been reached, and CDOW will work with the USDA Forest Service to determine what, if any, changes need to be made in the current population level. Moose have been allowed to increase on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River in GMU 66 and that population level will be reassessed. Moose numbers will be allowed to increase in other parts of the DAU for a period of time.
Significant issues raised during the public involvement sessions: Most members of the public surveyed are happy to have moose in the area, and would like to see more animals. This, of course, is dependent on the habitat capability. Business owners feel that viewing opportunities for moose attract people to the area. Federal land management agencies are generally supportive of having a moose population, but are wary about impacts to the riparian system from too many animals. There are also concerns about DOW’s ability to accurately assess the population size and regulate numbers in problem areas.
It’s estimated that from 18,000 to 22,000 bears live in Colorado. Bears are mostly solitary and reproduce slowly. Sows do not start producing cubs until they are four or five years old and then can only give birth every other year. Cubs often stay with their mothers for up to two years. Bears range generally in size from about 175 pounds for a sow and up to about 300 pounds for a boar. Few bears exceed 350 pounds in Colorado.
Bears live primarily in the range of 6,000 feet to 9,500 feet in elevation in thick oak brush and aspen groves. Population and reproduction vary depending on the availability of their favorite foods – acorns from oak brush, berries, grasses and forbs. When the weather is wet, that’s good news for bears. During drought fewer bears are born. Most bears are killed by hunters during September when the animals are most active searching for food before they go into hibernation.
The difficulty in obtaining a hunting license depends on the season and the specific game management unit. Bear-only rifle licenses, obtained through the draw, usually require preference points depending on the unit. During the regular big game deer and elk seasons, a limited number of bear licenses are available over-the-counter, but a hunter must have a deer or elk license for the same season.
In 2016, some 17,000 hunters harvested about 935 bears, a 5 percent success rate. One reason for the low harvest rate is that bears are difficult to hunt because they live primarily in thick brush. Also, after September their eating slows down and they are more difficult to find. By early November, most bears are curled up for their six-month nap.
Most bears are harvested when the weather is warm, so a successful hunter must attend to the carcass quickly. Remove the hide as fast as possible after the kill and trim away the fat. Then get the meat on ice as soon as possible. In warm weather, meat will spoil quickly.
Anyone who harvests a bear also must bring the carcass to a parks and wildlife office within five days of the kill so the sex and size can be determined and entered into a data base. A small tooth –the first premolar–is also removed so that researchers can be determined the age of the animal and how many times the sow has given birth to cubs.