Colorado big Game units
Big Game 2015: Other big game hunting in Colorado
By Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Deer and elk are the most commonly hunted species in Colorado. But hunters also go to the high country to pursue other magnificent big game animals: bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears, moose and mountain lions.
The numbers of these animals in the state are significantly lower than deer and elk, so licenses are few and difficult to get. But those who obtain a license can look forward to a high-quality hunting experience.
The bighorn is perhaps the most recognized and sought after animal in Colorado. The curled horns of the rams display one of the most magnificent characteristics of any wildlife species.
But while the hardy animals live in harsh terrain, bighorns are a fragile species and Colorado wildlife managers are keeping a close watch on them. The population of big horns is estimated at only about 7, 000 and the population has dropped slightly in the past few years.
For the 2014 season, Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued only 262 licenses for the entire state. Some 232 hunters took a total of 132 animals, including 109 rams and 23 ewes for a 57 percent success rate. Getting a license is difficult, with most hunters waiting a minimum of five to seven years to draw a tag. Depending on the unit, many hunters have waited more than 10 years for a license.
The preferred habitat of bighorns is steep, rocky slopes with little vegetation.
"They are very challenging to hunt, " says Scott Wait, senior terrestrial biologist for the agency in southwest Colorado.
While not meaning to be discouraging, Wait doesn't mince words about the realities of hunting for sheep. Preseason scouting is essential.
"They are very wary. The stalk is usually long, strenuous and in difficult terrain, " Wait says. "Most hunters must make long shots, often 200 yards or more. So you'll need high-quality optics, and rifles must be properly sighted in."
Retrieving an animal, of course, adds to the hunting challenge.
The good news for hunters is that bighorns are most active during the day and follow predictable daily patterns.
Unfortunately, for the bighorn, their predictability contributes to their fragility. Unlike other big game species, they do not adapt easily to new areas. They like to stay on their home turf, even when they are pressured by development or other animalswild and domestic.
When pressured, the animals become stressed and do not reproduce well. Sheep also are susceptible to diseases spread by domestic sheep and goats, and wild mountain goats.
All the herds in the state are closely monitored by agency biologists.
Colorado is also home to desert bighorn sheep. Statewide, the population of this species is growing, although there are only an estimated 615 animals in the state, all on the western edge of Colorado. Only 12 ram licenses were issued in 2014 and 11 animals were harvested.
The adaptable, hardy mountain goats seem to be able to defy gravity. These snow- white critters inhabit terrain that is even more severe than the haunts of bighorn sheep.
Goats balance on narrow bands of rock on sheer cliffs, and eat lichen and small plants. They seem to think nothing of jumping from one precipice to another. Goats also remain at high-elevation year around, enduring brutal winter conditions above timberline at more than 11, 000 feet.
Mountain goats were transplanted in Colorado from other states in the 1940s. There is still debate if they were ever native to the state.
Goats are very adaptable and can move long distances to get to new terrain. Unfortunately, they also carry...
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