Wildlife is taking a liking to Lone Mesa State Park north of Dolores.
Partly because the park is closed to the public, except for a limited public hunting season. And partly because of excellent forage conditions.
"Despite a low winter, a wet September really improved the range at the park and brought on a lot of forage," said park superintendent Scot Elder.
Elk herds are sticking around to graze in the mild weather, he said. And the acorn, choke cherry, and service berry are feeding the bears well for hibernation, he said.
This year, the park issued 105 permits across six seasons to hunt big game, including deer, elk, and bear.
Hunters say it's a good experience.
"There's less pressure from other hunters, and it's really nice country," said Terry Armine, who had a successful hunt this year with his 14-year old son, Bradley.
Armine tries to hunt there every year and usually has success if he draws a tag. This year he bagged a five-point bull and Bradley shot a six-pointer.
"It was his first time elk hunting so he was pretty excited to take down such a large bull," Armine said. "He almost got run over, but shot him at close range."
The park has additional hunting permits available for the fourth rifle season, Elder said.
"We're seeing some larger elk," he said. "The later season opens up for more permits because people are less likely to take a chance on the weather."
The unique hunting experience in the game park has been popular with non-resident hunters.
"We've had hunters from as far away as Pennsylvania drawing tags here and traveling out," Elder said. "We have a bit higher success rate than the state average."
Max Rahimzadeh, of Orange County, CA., has been traveling to hunt at Lone Mesa for seven seasons, usually with his daughter Ameneh, 31.
"We have about a 50 percent success rate when we draw at the park," he said. "We love it. It is very safe, family orientated, and the elk taste great. Everyone should get the chance to hunt there at least once."
Rahimzadeh says he stays in Dolores motels when he hunts Lone Mesa and processes his game in Cortez.
"It is the next best thing to a private hunting experience, and more affordable," he said.
In 2012, the latest numbers available, out of 104 permits issued to hunt Lone Mesa, 59 were Colorado residents and 45 were non-residents. For that year, of the 97 with elk tags, 19 hunters had harvests, 14 of which were bulls and 5 that were cows.
For black bear that year, 15 licenses were issued, and two bears were harvested.
"With this mild weather and good forage, it will take a lot to get the elk herds to move out of the park," Elder said.
For more information on a late-season hunting permit call 882-2213.