The author (right) with a Pheasants Forever member.
So, you’re new to Colorado, or perhaps you’ve lived here for a long time and have always been curious about the traditional outdoor pursuits but have never participated yourself. If you fit into the statistical curve, the biggest reason you’ve cited for not taking the first step to becoming an angler or hunter is lack of somebody to teach you. That’s right, if you were not taught outdoor skills at a young age, getting that knowledge later in life has proven to be the major barrier to entry for those wanting to hunt, fish and generally enjoy the benefits of a life in the great outdoors. But, it doesn’t have to be that way!
First off, why would you want to take up hunting or fishing? An increasingly common reason for adults getting out there is the desire to eat better quality food of known origin. Want to know where your protein came from? Harvest it yourself. Wild game and fish are nutrient dense, chemical free and very, very free-range. Physical exercise, a reason to explore your outdoor resources and inner self and the general feeling of accomplishment are also all great reasons to take that first step. But how? Read more
Professional chefs work their magic at a recent “trout taste test” in Fort Collins. CPW is experimenting with new hatchery feeds to produce better tasting fish. Photo by Alicia Cohn/CPW.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s hatchery system produces millions of rainbow trout annually. Each spring, the rainbows are stocked into lakes, reservoirs and rivers throughout Colorado to provide exceptional angling opportunities. But did you know that CPW also works hard to improve the taste of the trout you catch in Colorado’s water system?
Two professional chefs recently prepared rainbow trout raised in four different test feed groups for a special “trout taste test” evaluation organized by CPW. The event was part of a year-long research project for which the aquatics team at Bellvue Fish Research Hatchery raised four groups of Hofer rainbow trout from fry to catchable size to determine which feeds produce better quality fish, factoring in health, conformation and taste of the fish, as well as overall feed costs.
“Our trout are a healthy food choice that Coloradans can go out and catch themselves, and this event demonstrated innovative ways to prepare fresh fish caught from Colorado waters,” said George Schisler, aquatic research chief at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “I hope this event helped get people excited about the meals they can make and the effort we put into making sure Colorado fish are the best product they can be for our angling public.” Read more
Ava Nelson, 16, is all smiles after harvesting her first elk near Aspen.
Hunter: Ava Nelson
My day began at 3 a.m. when I thought, “What did I get myself into?” This was my second day of hunting for a bull elk with a muzzleloader. My dad and I figured we would try another spot that he knew since we were unsuccessful the first day. I promptly got out of bed and took a shower and got dressed in camo. My lunch was already packed so we were ready to rock and roll.
It was pitch dark outside on Sept. 11, 2016 for our 60-minute commute to the trailhead. My dad and I arrived at 4:30 a.m. and began hiking on a trail that started out easy but gradually got more difficult. We were about half way to the spot when it got daylight. We circled around to the spot where my dad thought there would be elk. This required some cliff scaling and some balancing skills. When we finally got there, the wind was not in our favor. My dad called a few times and a bull elk bugled back. Unfortunately, the bull did not sound like he was too interested and eventually stopped answering us. Read more
A Colorado Parks and Wildlife hunter education class. Photo by Crystal Egli/CPW.
Hunting has never been a part of my life. I have never desired to take down a bull elk with a gun or even whack a trout on the head. Yet, somehow, I found myself in a hunter education class, enjoying the lessons and learning more than I ever expected. If I’m clearly not a hunter, why on earth did I sign up for hunter-ed?
Utterly disconnected from where food comes from, I stopped to think about it for the first time when a coworker offered me slices of sausage harvested from an elk hunt. I’m a regular person who eats regular supermarket meat, with no room in the budget for local butcher shops or organic, free-range, grass-fed beef. Taking the first bite of elk, it dawned on me that I could finally ask someone exactly where the meat came from. Within 10 seconds I had my answer and more. The elk came from game management unit 32, near Meeker. It died quickly with two shots to the lungs, and the hunter shared the meat amongst family and friends. Sure, you could ask your local grocer the same question, but unless you work somewhere along the supply chain, you can never be 100 percent certain where supermarket meat comes from or how humanely it was harvested.
Being directly connected to this elk meat started a chain reaction of questions I had no answers for. I have always enjoyed blissful ignorance in regard to where my meat comes from. So why did I care about this meat, and not the burger I ate last night? Could this animal have had a better life—and death—than the animals I usually consume? Could these factors make hunting… better? To answer these questions I needed to know more about hunting. Read more
David Lien with a San Juan tom.
Colorado’s southwest corner is home to some of the highest, wildest public-lands wildlife habitat in Colorado and the country: the San Juan Mountains. The San Juans encompass both Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands, and contain not only the largest designated wilderness area in the southern Rockies, the 500,000-acre Weminuche Wilderness, but also the largest roadless area, the 150,000-acre Hermosa Creek watershed.
And it’s a place both Merriam’s turkeys and Rocky Mountain elk call home. My first San Juans turkey was taken only a couple miles (and a couple hundred feet in elevation change) from where I killed my first elk. Zach Roth, Littleton-based regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, says the Merriam’s turkey sub-species is often found in the hilly big-game habitat comprising much of the state’s public lands. “Anywhere that people hunt elk, there are probably turkeys there too,” says Roth.
However, taking a mountain Merriam’s can be as difficult as killing an elk. Statistics compiled by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the 2012 turkey season (the most recent available) showed hunter success rates for over-the-counter (OTC) license holders at around 25 percent, with limited license holders achieving a much higher 55 percent harvest rate. Read more
A darker belly band across the lighter breast is a distinctive mark of a red-tailed hawk. Photo by © Merry McGilvray
After many years of hiking in state parks and looking down at the wonderful array of wildflowers, I decided to start looking up as well. Seeing beautiful birds, I wondered, what bird is that? In an attempt to learn enough to answer that question, I attended park programs, talked to birders, invested in good binoculars and acquired a series of bird guide books. I soon became enraptured by one group of birds—the raptors.
Seeing raptors soar in a brilliant blue Colorado sky is almost reward enough in itself. But I wanted to know more about them. Raptors are birds of prey, including hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, and owls, among others. Many are large birds, but some are no bigger than robins. Regardless of size, all raptors are well-equipped predators, with strong feet and sharp toes, or talons; powerful, hooked beaks; and keen vision.
Photo by David Lien.
Although I’ve been an avid upland and big-game hunter for most of my life, over the years I’ve only dabbled in waterfowl (duck and goose) hunting. And after moving to Colorado from Minnesota seventeen years ago, waterfowl hunting fell completely by the wayside, until a friend and dedicated waterfowler, Tim Brass (State Policy Director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers), invited me on a January 2015 goose hunt.
Watching V-shaped flocks of honking Canada geese flying overhead, not to mention those enticed to within shotgun range, rekindled my desire to hunt waterfowl. For those with the same latent duck and goose hunting itch, first you’ll want to purchase the appropriate licenses and stamps. Waterfowl hunters need a small-game license, for starters.
Hunters age 16 or older are also required to purchase a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp) and a $5 Colorado State Waterfowl Stamp. In addition, pick up a $10 Colorado Habitat Stamp (for anyone aged 18 to 64), but only one is required per hunter each year, in the event you bought one with your turkey, big-game or upland-game license.
Located in remote southwest Colorado, Mancos State Park provides camping, fishing and connector trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling into the vast San Juan National Forest. It’s also just a 20-minute drive to world famous Mesa Verde National Park. This video provides a glimpse of one of the more popular winter activities at Mancos: ice fishing. Video produced by Joe Lewandowski/CPW.
Brian Marsh poses with a brown trout.
With these warm fall days lingering well into early winter, it’s hard to think about drilling holes through frozen lakes, much less through ice more than 30 inches thick at some of our high-elevation reservoirs. The good news, however, is ice fishing season is just around the corner. While many of the larger Front Range reservoirs are still several weeks away from getting a solid lid, some of the mountain lakes are starting to develop fishable ice. If you’re itching like me to go ice fishing, there are a few things you can do now to prepare for a successful hard-water fishing season. Read more
Wild rose hips and leaves in their autumnal splendor at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Photo by Linda Pohle.
No time for a full-day hike? Don’t let that discourage you from hopping on a trail in one of our gorgeous state parks for a short outing. Oh, the things you’ll see!
For example, a friend and I, plus my dog Sage, recently took a short hike on the Horseshoe Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which is 16 miles northwest of Golden. We lacked the time to walk the nearly 4 miles round-trip to Frazer Meadow, a beautiful area that was homesteaded in 1880 by John Frazer (only crumbling remnants of Frazer’s barn remain, but there’s an interpretive sign with interesting information about him). But the Horseshoe Trail is so lovely, and so nicely shaded, one of Sage’s requirements, that we decided to walk it for about an hour and then turn back. We knew that going out a short while on this trail was a much better idea than not going at all.
From our homes in southeast Denver, it’s an easy drive across town and up the 13 sinuous miles of beautiful Golden Gate Canyon. We stopped at the park visitor center to check the list of wildlife sightings and were thrilled to see that a moose with two calves recently had been spotted in the northern reaches of the park. The short drive to our trailhead showcased several new road and parking lot improvements, including the recently paved 14-car lot at Horseshoe trailhead, and multi-car overflow parking on both sides of the road just south of it. Wooden steps, framed by slopes of newly planted native vegetation, led up to the trail. Read more