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: Limited bull-elk hunting is on docket
June 16, 2004

What's it going to be: raghorns or trophy bulls? Let the debates begin.

Thursday is the deadline for hunters, chambers of commerce, local politicians, agriculture groups and hunting organizations to recommend the areas they would like to see swing from over-the- counter bull-elk hunting to limited hunting for bulls with big antlers.

Never mind that 80 percent of hunters who answered a Colorado Division of Wildlife questionnaire said they preferred the status quo, which for years has kept Colorado content as the Wal-Mart state for bull-elk hunters.

That is, everyone who buys a license over the counter can hunt a bull elk. But, owing to all the hunting pressure, most of the bulls they might see - if they are lucky - will be 21/2 years old, with spindly headgear. It's the raghorns for the rabble program.

Exceptions are found in 17 percent of herds, which already are managed by drawing for fewer hunters and longer-lived trophy bulls. Subtract some of those quality areas in the San Luis Valley and elsewhere where private lands exclude the average hunter, and the status quo allows a few of us a Saks Fifth Avenue-quality bull hunting in 13 percent of herds on public land.

The wildlife division, under orders from the governor-appointed Wildlife Commission, is standing by to raise limited bull-elk hunting to as high as 30 percent of Data Analysis Units, which is bureaucrat-speak for herds.

Most DAUs take in several Game Management Units, the term with which hunters are most familiar. So a conversion to quality hunting in a single DAU (herd range) could affect anywhere from one GMU, in the case of the smallest herd, to a dozen GMUs.

Changes aren't likely to come quickly or without fierce debates, the first of which is scheduled to get down to brass knuckles July 1-2 at the commission meeting in Gunnison.

With few exceptions, local businesses that profit from the greatest numbers of elk-hunting tourists can be expected to square off against hunters who would prefer better quality bulls at the cost of hunting them less often in some areas.

The outcome of each debate will depend on how much support comes from each locale proposed for change. The general public also will be able to weigh in with comments between now and October, after which biologists will draft plans for the 2005 hunting season.

"We will continue to accept all public comments," said John Smeltzer, the division's public services manager. "But the primary focus of the discussion will be at the DAU level, and those meetings will be held in or near the local community."

To keep the process manageable, the commission will accept only three proposals this year for adding limited bull-hunting areas in 2005. Those chosen must have a fair chance of passing, with local support.

For practical purposes, Thursday being the deadline, there is no time left for the public to nominate any more quality units. The division has been accepting nominations mailed in, but not electronically. (Information: www.wildlife. Click on Hunting and Elk Unit Nominations.)

Apropos of the location for the coming wildlife commission meeting, the first clash of antlers is expected to center on whether the Gunnison Valley north of U.S. 50 (GMUs 54, 55, 56 and 57) should switch to limited bull hunting. A citizens group with substantial public support has proposed the idea, which probably will draw opposition from the business community.

The most recent time a unit switched from general bull-elk hunting to quality hunting by draw was in 2001, when GMU 79 east of Creede and north of Del Norte was added. Two years previously, units 66 and 67, between Gunnison and Lake City, were added at the behest of local residents and hunters.

However, an attempt by the division to bring quality hunting to Unit 62 on the east side of the Uncompahgre Plateau in 2001 met with overwhelming local opposition and failed.

So wildlife managers and commissioners decided to let the public initiate any further discussion of adding quality bull-elk units.

"In the last go-round, the division said, 'We think this particular unit should be limited, what do you think?' " Smeltzer said. "This is kind of a role-reversal situation. We're saying there's another model out there. You tell us." or 303-892-5481


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