From the Colorado Division of Wildlife
-- With the fall rifle seasons reaching the half-way point, the Division of Wildlife is warning big game hunters to be absolutely certain of their target before they pull the trigger.
So far this fall, the Division has investigated more than 10 cases of hunters carelessly or negligently shooting moose.
"We're seeing way too many preventable mistakes," said Ron Velarde, DOW Northwest Regional Manager. "If you aren't 100 percent sure that what you have in your sights is what you have on your license, do not pull the trigger."
Despite years of education efforts surrounding moose reintroduction, including direct outreach to hunters with licenses in northwest Colorado, some hunters say they are surprised to see these big animals in areas where elk and deer are common.
That's no excuse, according to law enforcement chief Jay Sarason. "We expect hunters to positively identify their game," he said. "It's simple. If you're not absolutely sure, don't shoot."
While cow elk and cow moose may be confused in low light or when obscured by brush, bull elk and bull moose look nothing alike. Yet two hunters this fall have mistakenly shot bull moose.
One of those hunters is facing charges that could bring more than $14,000 in fines and the certainty of a license suspension hearing. Abandonment of a carcass could bring felony charges, incarceration and the permanent loss of hunting privileges in Colorado and 34 other states that participate in the Wildlife Violator Compact.
Proper target identification is one of the first rules that hunters learn in hunter education courses. Properly identifying the target not only ensures taking the proper species and gender but also prevents hunters from shooting at sound or movement, something that should never happen.
Sarason noted that more than 250,000 hunters take to the field each fall in Colorado and the total number of violations is low.
"We harvest about 50,000 elk every year," Sarason said. "The vast majority are harvested legally and ethically. Ethical sportsmen shouldn't feel like they're getting a black eye because a very small number of people are too quick on the trigger."
Colorado's moose reintroduction is one of the most successful species conservation programs in state history. Thanks to sportsmen dollars and support, Colorado is home to a growing population of more than 1,500 moose which have become highly sought-after by wildlife watchers. The largest members of the deer family can be found in many parts of the state.
Moose are common in North Park, Middle Park, Steamboat Springs, Rio Grande National Forest and Grand Mesa National Forest. They have recently been introduced into the White River National Forest. However, hunters in all mountainous terrain should expect they could encounter moose while hunting deer and elk.
Because moose are relatively rare, hunting licenses for moose are restricted. In 2010, Colorado will issue more than 225,000 elk licenses, but only 154 moose licenses. The lifetime bag limit for bull moose in Colorado is one.
"Moose hunting in Colorado is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Velarde. "Every moose that a careless or negligent hunter kills is a hunt denied to someone else."
Hunters who mistakenly kill the wrong animal are urged to immediately contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Wildlife officers will seize the erroneously killed animal and donate the meat. Hunters who mistakenly kill a moose and don't turn themselves in are subject to heavy fines and penalties if wildlife officers have to track them down.
"The ethical thing to do is to own up to your mistake," Velarde said. "Report the mistake and make sure the meat doesn't go to waste. Better yet, when in doubt, don't pull the trigger."
Hunters who see suspicious activity in the field are asked to contact a local District Wildlife Manager, enforcement agency or call Operation Game Thief toll-free at 877- (877)265-6648. Callers may remain totally anonymous.
Click here for a fact sheet describing the differences between moose and elk.
Learn more about moose in Colorado.