Sep 01 2014
By Al Raychard
Hunting Methods: Still hunting and spot and stalk over natural foods. Baiting and use of dogs are prohibited.
Bag Limit: One. Most WMUs allow either sex, but bears accompanied by one of more cubs and bears younger than one year old cannot be killed.
License Availability/Cost: By draw, over the counter and by mail.
Draw-Limited: Resident-$44 Non-resident=$351
Over the Counter and Left-over: Resident-$41 Non-resident-$351
Non-resident license fees including fishing license.
Estimated Bear Population: 16,000 to 18,000
Range: Primarily western two-thirds of state.
Spring Hunts: No
Legal Weapons: Centerfire rifles.24 cali. Or larger with expanding bullets weighing at least 70 grains. Handgun 24-cal or larger and shotgun larger than 20 gauge. Crossbows with a minimum draw of 125 pounds are legal during rifles seasons only.
Muzzleloaders, including in-lines .40 cal. or larger. During muzzleloader season pelletized propellant, sabots, scopes, smokeless powder and electronic ignitions are prohibited.
During archery season longbows, recurve and compound bows with minimum draw of 35 pounds. Lighted nocks, scopes, electronic or battery-powered device prohibited. Arrows must have 7/8 cutting minimum cutting radius.
Contacts: Colorado Parks and Wildlife*(303) 297-1192* www.cpw.co.us
Colorado Outfitters Association*(970) 824-2468*
U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region
(303) 275-5350* www.fs.fed.us/r2
Mile High Bruins
In 1992 voters did away with Colorado’s spring bear hunt in a referendum backed by the Humane Society of the United States. The spring season was first established in 1964 with an unlimited number of licensers available. Limited spring license availability started in 1986. The constitutional amendment also prohibited the hunting of bears prior between March 1 and September 1 and banned the use of dogs and bait to hunt bears. Measure 10 as it was called, was supported by 70 percent of the electorate. That year Colorado’s statewide bear population was estimated at between 8,000 and 12,000 animals and hunters killed 300 bears during the fall season.
Due to increasing human-bear conflicts and overall bear numbers statewide, in 2011 a bill was introduced in the legislature to reinstate the spring season and to give Colorado Parks and Wildlife the authority to set bear hunting season dates. The bill would not allow the use of dogs or baiting. As of this date the bill has gone nowhere largely due to anti-hunt organizations who still oppose a spring season and claim more education and study is needed.
But human-bear conflicts have increased considerably in many areas of the state. In recent years state wildlife officials have killed more than 40 bears annually that either attacked humans or encroached in urban areas. Similar numbers are reported for 2009, 2007 and 2002.
And since 1992 much has changed in the Mile High State.
For one, the number of hunters purchasing bear licenses and number of bears harvested annually have increased. In 2003 11,254 resident and non-resident bear licenses were purchased and those hunters killed 603 bears. In 2012 license sales jumped to 13,672 and 1,172 bears were killed. In 2013 the number of licenses sold increased to 15,053 and hunters killed 1,106 bears. Over the last ten years the statewide average harvest was 710 bears annually and 990 annually over the last three years. Success rate have also improved reaching 7 percent by all hunting means in 2013 and 9 percent by bow hunters.
There is also more opportunity to hunt bears. Since 2000 hunting seasons have started with an early, limited rifle season beginning September 2 along with concurrent archery, muzzleloader and 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th rifle hunts. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife has also increased the number of available bear licenses, making it easier to obtain required licenses. Under the current license structure licenses are available by draw and for rifle, archery and muzzleloader over the counter with caps, meaning a preset number of licenses are available to both resident and non-resident hunters on a first-come, first serve basis. Left-over licenses are also available for these hunts. A number of other hunt options are also available, including a Ranching for Wildlife Draw for residents only, an over-the-counter, unlimited rifle Plains hunt and Private-Land Hunts in several units, including a new Private-Land Hunt in a half dozen game management units between Leadville and Salida to encourage bear harvest.
Still bear numbers have increased. In 1992, when the spring hunt was banned it was estimated the Colorado’s statewide population was between 8,000 and 12,000. Although no formal field research on bears has been conducted since the mid-1990s recent population estimates by Colorado Parks and Wildlife puts the number between 16,000 and 18,000 with densities in core areas higher than expected.
Currently, black bears are found in good numbers in the western two-thirds of the state with the highest densities in montane shrub lands from the Walsenburg and Trinidad area west to the San Luis Valley and in the San Juan Mountains and canyon county of southwest Colorado. Numbers are also high and growing in the Park Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park and the Steamboat Springs area in north-central Colorado and the Sawtooth Range including the Leadville to Gunnison area west to Grand Junction and the Uncompahgre Plateau.
In 2013 some of the highest bear-producing game management units were in these areas. GMUs 521, 053, 062, 065, 070, 077 all produced over 110 bears and GMUs 084 and 085 each produced over 220 bears during all seasons combined. These units among others in these areas were also high producers during the archery and muzzleloader seasons.
The largest percentage of bears each year are killed in September, during a period called hyperphagia, basically when Colorado bears switch diets from summertime broadleaf plants and insects to high fat, high carbohydrate foods likes fruits and nuts and go on a feeding frenzy. Bear may travel 20- to 30 miles from their high summer range to lower fall ranges and feed up to 20 hours each day making them more vulnerable to hunters but finding key foods is key to success. Serviceberry, chokecherry, pin berry, squaw apple, mountain ash, buffalo berry and currant are highly sought and primary staples at this time, along with nut-bearing Gambel oak and pinon pine for nuts, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Find a reliable source of these foods, put your time in and seeing bears shouldn’t be a problem.
Fortunately, finding a place to hunt in Colorado isn’t much of a problem, either. Over one-third of the state, some 23 million acres is public land, the most important of which for bear hunters are the 11 national forests. Several including the San Isabel, Pike, San Juan, Gunnison, and Rio Grande National Forests cover more than one million acres each. The White River and Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests cover more than 2.2 million acres each. Information on hunting these public lands, as well as any user or camping fees that might be involved can be obtained by contacting the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region Office or visit the individual web site for each forest.
And there are other reasons to bear hunt Colorado. Along with combination hunts, the state producers some large bruins. In general Colorado bears are slightly smaller in body compared to some eastern counterparts but 200- to 300 pound specimens are a good possibility. A 400-pounder would be a rare trophy in terms of body weight. But many Colorado bears live to a ripe old age and produce respectable, even large skulls. At least 32 are listed in the Boone & Crockett Record Book and there are a fire number in the Pope and Young and Longhunter record books.
There is also a good chance of taking a bear of color. White off color variations vary from area to area a 1994 study on Colorado’s black bear population should 83 percent of all bears were brownish rather than black. White slash or blaze marks on the chest are also common.
And while Colorado with its vast public lands is a prime destination for a do-it-yourself bear hunt there are plenty of qualified guides and outfitters that can provide a wide range of services, from day hunts to wilderness adventures.