FRISCO, Colo. (AP) – Colorado wildlife authorities say the state’s small moose population faces a frustrating threat: sloppy hunters who think they’re aiming at elk.

The Summit Daily News reports that just halfway through this year’s fall rifle season, officials know of 11 moose accidentally killed. Last year the number was 14 for the entire year.

Colorado has only about 1,700 moose, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued 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. Wildlife officials say too many elk hunters are mistakenly shooting moose, which live in similar terrain.

“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,” Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said.

Elk hunters that mistakenly kill a moose and don’t turn themselves in can be fined $20,000.

A trophy bull moose in Vail was shot and abandoned near Red Sandstone Road Oct. 30. Another moose was illegally killed near Silverthorne Oct. 22.

“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. Reporting an incident means the meat won’t go to waste, officials say. Wildlife officers seize the animal and donate the meat.

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.

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.

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 near water and in willow thickets.

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.

“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.”

To report illegal hunting, call Operation Game Thief at 1-877-COLO-OGT (877-265-6648)

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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