COLORADO

Deer Forecast 2004 -- WEST

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Look for a good season here, with hunter success predicted at around 45 percent or better. According to Tyler Baskfield, information officer for the Colorado Division of Wildlife Resources, the only area of concern is the San Luis Valley, which has had five years of drought. As a result, deer numbers haven't rebounded as they have elsewhere, with lower buck-to-doe ratios. On the other hand, the southwestern units are doing very well, with plenty of precipitation, which is essential for quality ranges. Overall, Colorado supports 570,000 deer. Most mule deer live in the western mountains, though some big bucks dwell in the eastern plains. Whitetails inhabit much of the plains units.

In 2002 hunters took 36,000 deer. Last year, 88,000 hunters killed 37,600 deer. Baskfield says that number could be exceeded this year. The top mule-deer units for quality bucks and high hunter success are in the northwest region, all of them limited-entry units requiring preference points. Outstanding public whitetail hunting for big bucks is available along the Platte River on state wildlife areas, such as units 90, 91, 92, 95 and 96, and unit 103 near Bonny Reservoir.

All deer tags are distributed in a lottery; in the top units, hunters with the highest number of preference points are apt to draw. Deer seasons are combined with those for elk and run October 16-24, October 30 to November 5 and November 6-10. There are some special late hunts that run to January 31. There will likely be leftover tags after the draw. They went on sale in August.