2020 Big game population report

In southern Colorado game management units (GMUs) 80, 81, 771, 78, 751, 77, and 75 have elk populations that are greater than 10 percent below population objectives.

In May, CPW released the 2020 Status Report: Big Game Winter Range Migration Corridors.

To manage big game populations, CPW uses a “management by objective” approach for each Data Analysis Unit (DAU). A DAU is the geographic area that represents the year-around range of a big game herd and delineates the seasonal ranges of a specific herd, while keeping interchange with adjacent herds to a minimum. A DAU includes the area where the majority of the animals in a herd complete their life cycle. Most DAUs are composed of multiple Game Management Units (GMUs), which are designed to distribute hunters within the DAU. In a few cases, only one GMU makes up a DAU.
Colorado’s statewide elk population, the largest in the United States, peaked in 2001 at 305,000 animals. The statewide 2018 post-hunt population objective range is 233,000-282,000. The 2018 post-hunt estimate was 287,000, up slightly from 282,000 in 2017. CPW utilizes season structure and hunter harvest, specifically antlerless harvest, to maintain or achieve population herd objectives. CPW has intentionally reduced elk populations to achieve population objectives. Reductions in antlerless licenses are anticipated as elk populations reach objectives or as population objectives increase.

Hunters and outfitters have increasingly expressed concerns that elk populations are becoming too low in some herds, despite the fact that 22 of 42 (52%) of the elk herds are above their current population objective ranges.

In Southern Colorado this is especially the case. CPW has gone to a limited draw only in 2020 for archery tags in Southwest Colorado and is also reducing the number of cow tags to archery hunters. In southern Colorado GMUs 80, 81, 771, 78, 751, 77, and 75 have elk populations that are greater than 10 percent below population objectives. In the San Luis Valley GMUs 76, 79, 791 which are draw only units, have elk populations that are greater than 10 percent above CPW population objectives. The Sangre de Cristo GMUs are at population objectives or greater than 10 percent above objectives.

Between 2007 and 2013, Colorado’s estimated statewide deer population declined from roughly 600,000 deer to approximately 390,000 deer. Western Colorado has historically supported some of the largest mule deer herds in the state. The current statewide post-hunt deer population estimate is 433,000, which is well below the population objective range of 500,000-560,000 mule deer. In 2018, 23 of 54 (43%) deer herds are below their population objective ranges.

In the San Luis Valley GMUs 78, 80 81 and 83 are at objectives or greater than 10 percent below deer population objectives. While GMUs 76, 79, 791, 682 are greater than 10 percent above objectives.

Colorado’s statewide post-hunt pronghorn population objective range is 68,000 – 78,000, which is divided among 30 herds across the state. The 2018 statewide post-hunt pronghorn population estimate is 79,000, down from the record high of 86,000 in 2017. Thirteen of 29 (45%) pronghorn herds are above their population objective range. Approximately half of the state’s pronghorn herds reside in the Southeast Region, where the greatest number of licenses are available. In the San Luis Valley pronghorn populations are greater than 10 percent below population objectives.

The 2019 post-hunt estimate for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep populations is 6,940 (Figure 10). Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunting opportunities are divided into 39 different DAUs. There are approximately 550 desert bighorn sheep in 2 DAUs in Colorado.

Colorado’s overall moose population continues to increase in size as moose expand their range and pioneer new habitats. The estimated statewide 2018 post-hunt moose population is 3,240. CPW has been increasing cow moose licenses to manage moose populations toward population objectives and to address moose conflicts in some areas. There are 12 moose DAUs in Colorado, 9 on the West Slope and 3 on the Front Range. Since 2017 CPW has allowed moose hunting in 63 GMUs, an increase from 39 GMUs in 2013.


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