Big Game Hunting season starts in Colorado with Archery at the end of August and runs to the end of September. Muzzle loaders get a week long season mid-September and the first rifle seasons get started the second week of October and runs through middle of January. I hunt for Elk, Mule Deer, and Antelope. Here's a picture of part of the area I hunted for Elk and Deer this year.
During the course of scouting my hunting grounds, archery hunting and finally rifle hunting, I had quite a few experiences that capture the beauty and tension in the wild places of Colorado.
First, you have to decide what kind of hunter you are and where you are going to hunt. Down at the Gun Shop, all kinds of hunters assemble the tools of the trade.
The one type of hunter I can't stand is the "Canned Hunt Master." One guy, we'll call him "Dick C." kills more animals every year than I will take in my entire life many times over. He'll go to a farm back East and shoot a 100 pheasants in a day. He'll go to Wyoming and shoot a bison that is enclosed behind a ten foot re-enforced fence on a 10,000 acre ranch. He goes on Safari in Africa and gets carted around by guides in a Land Rover until they find the trophy he wants to kill. He's killed dozens of leopards, elephants and every exotic animal you can think of and have admired in pictures. He never eats what he kills. "Dick C. donates all of the meat." You wish he'd get hit by a bus crossing the street.
Another type of hunter is the guy who gets nine days a year to be outside. He meticulous plans his trip, assembles his equipment, and saves the $3500 for his Elk/Deer hunt. This is his big vacation every year and he will make the most of it. He buys a package with everything provided. All he brings is himself, his clothes, and his bow or rifle. He never gets a chance to scout his hunting grounds, but relies on a guide to get him to a good setup. Sometimes he'll know how to bugle and cow call, but most likely he'll let the guide call in the animal he's going to harvest. He usually carries a rifle that is a little bigger than he probably needs. A .338 Mag instead of 30 06 or .270 He'll have his Elk processed at meat packer and shipped back to his home. The guided hunter is great for the local economy in rural Colorado. He spends a lot on gear, every dollar he gives his guide will be spent in the local community, and ends up bringing $5,000 a year to communities like Kremmling and Meeker Colorado.
A lot of tension is developing because of the willingness of Republicans/BushCO to trash hunting grounds in the search for gas and oil. This article from the Denver Post is a great example of what is happening. This quote catches the tensions in a nut shell.
The state Division of Wildlife recently expressed concerns over impacts such as energy exploration on wildlife - including elk, mule deer, pronghorn and the imperiled greater sage grouse - and called for seasonal and geographic restrictions on drilling.
"The Colorado Division of Wildlife has several concerns to the impact on wildlife and habitat within and surrounding the proposed lease area," Ron Velarde, the agency's northwest regional manager, wrote in formal comments to the BLM. "Fragmentation of the habitat will have a negative impact to many wildlife species."
More than one outfitter has seen his hunting grounds changed forever by oil and gas exploration and the whole community loses when he can't book hunters.
Other hunters try to rely on some local help selecting a camp, choosing their hunting grounds, and packing in their gear, but will essentially hunt on their own with minimal support.
Other hunters are opportunity hunters. They work outdoors, so they will get a license, so they can take a Cow elk or doe for the meat, but they typically do not go out hunting for more than an afternoon or morning at a time.
Finally, there are the do it yourself crowd that hunt for meat. This is how I hunt. I scout my hunting grounds, assemble my gear, pack it in, and hunt. My first scouting trip was the weekend after YearlyKOS this year. I finally took a five point bull elk on October 21st. I hiked almost 200 miles, spent 20 nights camping, and saw a lot that made my Fall and some things that made my blood boil. Here's the map of my hunting grounds.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful hunt is to scout your hunting grounds. You need to make the map mean something to you. You need to find the meadows, the water supplies, migration routes, and most importantly some quality setups where you will be able to blend in and actually see your elk when you call it in. I started scouting the weekend I got back from YearlyKos. I had selected Unit 38 as my hunting grounds for 2007 and started by going to Colorado Division of Wildlife's website and studying the maps. I picked my 16 square miles and started hiking. The sixteen square miles that I had chosen area had a lot of pressure from hikers and campers who almost universally did not obey the leash law for the James Peak Wilderness. This pushes the elk and deer into the areas away from the established trails. If you are in the woods and you don't see wildlife check for dogs running loose. After a couple of days. I found this meadow about a mile from any established or mapped trail.
There was a ton of sign. I walk along the edge of the meadow, found a comfortable tree, sat down and took a nap. When I woke up, I was surrounded by a small herd of about 15 elk. I had found my best setup for archery hunting.
After I made it back to an established trail, I nearly got run over by a mountain biker. Because of the terrain, he had to dismount. I asked him what he was doing riding in a wilderness area. He claimed he didn't know. I was tempted to take his bike away from him, taco his wheels and make him hike it out. What a cocksucker! Instead, I told him he should hike his bike out. He told me to fuck off as he rode away.
I checked in with the Boulder District Ranger and found out from a very friendly fellow named Paul that there was really nothing to be done. There are only three rangers that work law enforcement over several hundred square miles and two of them are in Montana fighting forest fires. "So it's essentially a lawless area up there?" I asked. "There are laws, but no one to enforce them, and even if we do nail someone, the US Attorney in Denver won't prosecute the case." He then related a case involving snowmobilers that had ripped up several acres of trees. They should have had their sleds seized, be fined thousands of dollars, and spent a couple of years in jail. Instead the USA pleaded it down to a $200 fine and a six month suspended sentence. I should have tacoed the guys wheels after all.
I called Senator Salazar's office, and pleasant aide named Brandon referred me to a Publica Relations hack for the Forest Service. Basically, Senator Salazar could give a shit. God, I hope Udall really works for Colorado. We don't need another Lieberdem.
I started archery hunting for elk and deer. I didn't even pull an arrow out of my quiver the whole three weeks (I hunt a couple of days at a time when I can break away from work and family). I got within 75 yds of a beautiful cow elk, but I'm only accurate out to about 50 yds, and she high tailed it way out of range as soon as she caught my scent. I didn't see a single buck or doe.
What I did see pissed me off. I saw a pair of German Short Haired pointers chasing a rabbit. I saw at least 20 dogs off leash. My favorite was when I helped four completely lost hikers with an off leash dog back to the main trail. We talked a little bit. I told them they should keep their dog on leash so it didn't spook the wildlife. Next time they'd bring a leash they told me. They asked what was hunting; I told them elk and deer. One of the four, told me she was rooting for the elk and the deer. I told them to learn to read a map and walked off pissed. I confronted a ATV rider in the Wilderness area and made him walk out. I watched six SUVs with progressive bumper stickers rip up a Wetlands Restoration Area. They set up camp and partied until 2AM ripping the meadow to shreds. By the end of archery season, I was ready to start hunting assholes.
Between archery season and rifle season, I tried to get someone to pay attention to what was happening in our forests. Mark Udall's office was the only one that paid attention and I hope to hear some positive news soon. What is happening is just plain wrong and must be stopped.
Hunting season ended for me on October 21st. I woke up at 3:30am, got to the trail head at 5:00am. Hike in to my setup at 6:45am. The snow was coming down hard and there were six inches on the ground by 7:00am. I bugled once every 20 minutes and used a cow call every 20 minutes for an hour and half and at 8:15am a 5x5 Bull elk came in to my calls and a I shot it once with a .30 06. It took two steps and dropped. I field dressed it, quartered it, took all of the meat off of the carcass and finished bringing out the meat and the head around 6:00PM. By the time I had everything loaded into my truck there was over a foot of snow on the ground. I took a nap in my truck and drove home. I spent all of the next day getting my meat processed, getting the lymph nodes tested for CWD(mad cow disease for elk), and cleaning up and packing away my gear for next year.
Between fishing and hunting I have enough meat for the entire year in my freezer for my family. Every bite means something to me, and sooner or later my wife will get used to not eating beef.