EAGLE COUNTY - Americans love wildlife, and this year more of us love it medium rare.
Colorado is enjoying one of its biggest big- game seasons ever and when it's over the economic impact will top $403 million, according Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.
Colorado will see 260,000 licensed elk hunters this year. More than 10,000 of them will find their way to Eagle County.
That works out well because while Parks and Wildlife is a state agency, it gets no money from the state coffers.
"We do not receive any money from the state's general fund. We are funded by people who hunt, fish and visit state parks," said Randy Hampton with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Colorado's total elk herd is an almost-perfect 267,000 animals, Hampton said.
"We have brought those populations down over the past few years. We are at our objective population," Hampton said.
As state wildlife managers reached that number, licenses became a little tougher to get. They don't need to harvest as many animals each year, so they sell slightly fewer licenses, Hampton said.
Still, there are still more big-game hunting licenses in Colorado than any other state.
"We harvest more elk than other states have elk," Hampton said.
The two largest herds in northwest Colorado have more elk than most other states and Colorado has 43 other elk herds.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife runs all kinds of promotional programs, and while it isn't trying to make everyone into hook and bullet people, it's trying to make everyone understand how much hook and bullet people are needed.
"We're not trying to make everyone a hunter. But without hunting we don't have the ability to manage the 900-plus species we manage in Colorado. We hope people can understand how important hunters are in so many ways," Hampton said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife gets about two-thirds of its funding for wildlife management from selling hunting and fishing license sales.
The state's $110 million in license fees can't go to anything else. That's the federal law and has been since the 1920s.
Elk hunting is still Colorado's top big-game draw. Hunters have a 22 percent success rate, Parks and Wildlife found.
Mule deer hunters are successful more than 50 percent of the time.
Big-game hunting pumps $403.7 million into the state economy each year, according to a report from BBC Consulting. Overall, hunting, fishing and watchable wildlife tourism has a $3 billion impact.
The same report found that hunting pumps $28.7 million dollar into Eagle County's economy annually.
Visitors flock to Western Colorado for big-game hunting seasons, generating their annual $1.5 billion in economic impact.
Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching creates 20,000 jobs around the state, second only to skiing's $2 billion annual economic impact, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.
Much of skiing's money pours into a few Western Slope counties. Hunting and fishing pumps money into each of Colorado's 64 counties. It's four percent of Moffat County's economy, about $26 million, Parks and Wildlife found.
Much of Parks and Wildlife's money pays for habitat improvements. Near Sweetwater Resort, for example, the agency seeded the south-facing slopes to create better winter range for elk and deer.