Illegally killed moose total 11 halfway into hunting season
Summit Daily News
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
It’s just halfway through the fall rifle season, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are getting stern on their warnings to elk hunters.
Do not shoot moose, they say. Fines can be substantial for not identifying a target and shooting the wrong game, Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said. But fines and penalties are heftier for those who misidentify and also don’t turn themselves in – like fines up to $20,000, felony convictions, prison time and lifetime suspension of hunting privileges in Colorado and 35 other states that participate in the national Wildlife Violator Compact.
“Elk hunters are not identifying their target, pulling the trigger rashly and discovering later when they approach the animal, they shot the wrong game, and getting out of there as soon as possible hoping they’re not discovered. It’s happening in too many cases,” Porras said.
It’s a basic tenet of hunter safety to use binoculars or an optical scope to fully identify the target before pulling the trigger. It not only prevents shooting the wrong game, it also protects fellow hunters, Porras said. Shooting other humans is rare, but it can happen.
“There aren’t as many moose out there (as elk),” Porras said. “Killing a moose illegally, accidentally, carelessly – it’s much more of a concern. It can be devastating to their population. That’s why it’s such a concern.”
The moose, a trophy bull, in Vail was shot and abandoned near Red Sandstone Road Oct. 30. Another moose was illegally killed near Silverthorne Oct. 22.
Cases of moose being illegally shot this fall number 11. Last year, officers investigated 14 moose being mistakenly, or illegally, shot. Eleven hunters were cited for poaching or negligence.
“If there’s any question – any question at all – don’t shoot,” said Ron Velarde Northwest Regional Manager. “If you’re not absolutely, positively certain of your target, do not pull that trigger.”
The majority of hunters do the right thing by first identifying the target and, if there is a mistake, turning themselves in, Porras said. Those who are not are causing concern for wildlife officials in terms of hunting and managing the few moose that are out there.
Reporting an incident of mistaken shooting and field dressing the animal means the meat won’t go to waste, officials say. Wildlife officers seize the animal and donate the meat.
Funded and supported by sportsmen, Colorado’s moose introduction program ranks as one of the most successful species conservation efforts in the state’s history, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say.
Colorado is home to a growing population of roughly 1,700 moose, which are now common in North Park, Middle Park, Steamboat Springs, Rio Grande National Forest, and Grand Mesa National Forest. Moose were recently introduced into the White River National Forest east of Meeker. In addition, moose are inveterate wanderers and are increasingly found on the Front Range.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued just 175 moose hunting licenses this year. The lifetime bag limit for antlered moose in Colorado is one. In contrast, wildlife managers issued elk licenses to more than 214,000 hunters in 2010.
As Colorado’s moose population has grown, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers have devoted significant resources to education and outreach programs intended to inform hunters about the differences between elk and moose.
Sometimes, even personal outreach isn’t enough, officials say. In 2010, Velarde visited a camp of elk hunters near Meeker and warned the group to be on the lookout for moose. A day later, a wildlife officer returned to the camp after one of the hunters turned himself in for shooting a moose.
Moose and elk are both large members of the deer family, and the two species are easy to distinguish in clear light, said Andy Holland, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s big game manager. Elk tend to be lighter, have a white rump and can be found in groups, often in hilly and open terrain. Moose tend to be uniformly dark brown, travel singly or in pairs, and can often be found in riparian areas and willow thickets.
However, moose and elk can often be found in similar terrain – in aspen stands, in oak brush, in wet or dry meadows, and even above timberline. Heavy cover can also obscure distinguishing field marks, like the moose’s bulbous nose or the broad, palmated antlers of bulls.
Hunting for elk is often best at dawn and dusk, low-light conditions that can lead to the misidentification of elk and moose even by experienced hunters. The moose’s habit of standing still in bottoms and wet terrain can also make it a tempting target for an inexperienced or over-anxious hunter.
“Elk don’t stand around and watch you,” Holland said. “If it sees you or smells you and doesn’t run away, it’s probably not an elk. It’s the hunters’ responsibility to make sure they know what they’re looking at.”
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