Elk and Big Horn Sheep Studies in Colorado

Colorado Big Horn Sheep

Those of you who have followed me over the years know I have a genuine love for hunting and respect for animals. I enjoy chasing a big bull elk or even a cow any chance I get. I also have a bucket list a mile long. Does it mean I’m chasing trophies? Maybe, but I think of it as a desire to get closer to and understand every animal I can. They are all amazing and respected by this huntress. I was intrigued when I received a report of a new study.

The study is conducted here in the San Juan Mountains of Pagosa Springs. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife recently began their study on two important animals in the state’s wildlife population that is also on my bucket list. The division studies the movement or migration and the populations of local elk and Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep herds.

Get outside. Explore, learn, hunt, fish, shoot, connect with nature. ~Mia

According to the division of wildlife’s report, the study will be conducted as follows:

“These studies will help us to learn important information about the elk and bighorn populations in this area of Colorado,” said Stephanie Steinhoff, terrestrial biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

Elk study

In the elk study, 25 animals — eight bulls and 17 cows — were captured and fitted with VHF radio collars which allow biologists to track the animals’ movements from the air. The animals were captured in mid-February.

To estimate elk populations, Parks and Wildlife staffers conduct what are called “classification flights.” Biologists fly over areas where elk herds gather during winter and conduct population surveys. Then, using specialized survey techniques, harvest results, historical information, survival rates and computer analysis, biologists estimate herd composition and size.

For the study, biologists will fly over the area to locate elk via the signal from the collars. They’ll then provide the location to another crew that will fly over the area in a helicopter in a specific pattern and try to spot and count elk. That crew’s count will then be compared with the counts that are made during the regular classification flights.

“We know that on our survey flights we see only a fraction of the elk that are on the ground,” Steinhoff explained. “This study will help us learn more about what factors prevent us from seeing animals or help us to spot animals in certain types of terrain. That will help us improve our classification flights and modeling techniques,” Steinhoff said.

Another objective of the study is to attempt to determine the migration patterns of elk in the area and their movement patterns during the hunting seasons. Some animals from this area move south into New Mexico during the winter, but the extent of the migration is not known.

Battery life on the radio collars is from three to five years; research will continue as long as the batteries last.

Bighorn study

There are three distinct bighorn herds in the south San Juan mountains. The population of two of the herds is holding steady, while the third herd seems to be in decline.

In mid-February biologists captured seven bighorns — five ewes and two rams. Each was fitted with GPS transmitter collars that allow biologists to track their movements continuously. Nasal and oral swabs and blood samples were also taken for disease testing.

Researchers want to learn how far these bighorn sheep move from year to year, if they interact with the other bighorn herds and if they venture into areas grazed by domestic sheep. Bighorns are susceptible to diseases carried by domestic sheep.

The collars will last about three years. Steinhoff hopes that more collars will be put out in the future.

“We don’t have much information about these bighorn herds, so the data we gather will be very valuable,” Steinhoff said.

To learn more about elk and Rocky Mountain bighorns, go to:  Colorado Parks and Wildlife

What does that mean to us?

•It means we will be provided with valid data to support or discount the recent elimination of certain elk hunts.
•We do not guide big horn sheep hunts, but it will surely affect which units we choose to apply for in our personal quests to acquire this magnificent creature.
•We will better understand theories we as guides and hunters have developed over the years.

Please visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife for more information regarding the study or to view hunting regulations.

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Mia Anstine is an outdoor writer, licensed outfitter, hunting guide, life coach, keynote speaker, and range safety officer, firearms instructor, and archery instructor. She is the founder of MAC Outdoors and Host of the MAC Outdoors Podcast. 

Mia Anstine strives to encourage others to get outside, hunt, fish, shoot, and survive life with others in a positive way.

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Mia Anstine
MAC Outdoors LLC
PO Box 31
Ignacio, CO 81137-0031

2 Replies to “Elk and Big Horn Sheep Studies in Colorado”

  1. These studies seem like a legit way to truly understand the health of your resource, so that your CDPW can make informed decisions from year to year on hunting regulations. In stark contrast, out here in California, they implemented no fishing zones (Marine Protected Areas or MPA’s) where no such baseline study was ever conducted. What’s worse, supposedly “open” forums were not open. I tried to go to one upon seeing the post on Facebook, only to find that the meeting had already started 15 min prior to the post. Really? Pretty fishy isn’t it?

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