Elk gather at a baiting site in the Gunnison Basin. Video capture by Jerry Neal/CPW.
Gunnison, Colorado is famous for its severe winters and snow-covered landscapes. In fact, the small, Western Slope town has earned the reputation as one of the coldest places in North America because of its sustained periods of sub-zero and record-low temperatures.
By Gunnison’s standards, 2016-17 brought warmer-than-average temperatures throughout fall and early winter. However, above average snowfall across the region in late December and early January created difficult forage conditions for big-game animals. To locate food, elk and deer moved to the lowest areas of their winter range, bringing them dangerously close to Highway 50. Read more
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
Daybreak on the Rusty Spurr Ranch.
It is 3 a.m., and my dad is ready to head out. After weeks of anticipation, the time had finally come. Finally, I was going on my first hunting trip for a mule deer. After jumping out of bed, stuffing my face with whatever breakfast was available, I boarded our van. We had started packing the evening before for a weekend of hunting and camping under the stars, and now it was finally time for the adventure to begin.
A distance of 105 miles from my home in Highlands Ranch awaited our hunting spot; Kremmling, Colorado . It was still dark at 6 a.m. when we reached our youth hunt coordinator, Ted Zagone’s, quiet residential subdivision. Mr. and Mrs. Zagone were very welcoming. Mrs. Shelly Zagone offered us hot chocolate, coffee and sandwiches. Mrs. Zagone showed me the pictures of her son who serves in the United States Navy. She was so proud of him and missed him so much. I felt so happy for her and hoped that I would make my parents feel proud someday of my accomplishments.
It’s 15 minutes before last light on the final day of the season. You’re hunting alone and still trying to fill your tag. As your mind pours all its energy into flexing your senses to the max, you notice movement; then an ear; then a head; and finally the full body of your four-legged quarry making its way out of shadow-dappled trees and into your view some 350 yards away.
You confirm your target with binoculars then settle into the appropriate shooting position, aim, and gently, but purposefully, press the trigger. The animal goes 25 yards and drops. You smile, your heart races and you take 10 minutes to collect your thoughts. It’s now rather dark but you’re not concerned. You grab your headlamp and eagerly head to the animal only to discover that you can’t find it. You spend the next hour searching but come up empty handed–not even a drop of blood.
You go back to camp and spend a sleepless night wondering what happened. The next morning you find the animal more than 200 yards away from where you thought you saw it drop. Embarrassed and frustrated, you quickly void your carcass tag, get the animal field dressed and start packing it out. Thank goodness none of the meat has spoiled. 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
The Chaffee County Shooting Range
A shooter takes aim at the Chaffee County Shooting Range. All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW
“Don’t tell anyone about this place,” said the target shooter as the smell from the rifle rounds he just shot hung in the air. “This place is great and I don’t want it to get too crowded.”
“Sorry, but telling people about this place is why I’m here,” I replied, smiling.
“This place” is the Chaffee County Shooting Range, or “the best, nonfee, public range in the state,” as Jim Aragon, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) area wildlife manager for Area 13, proudly stated. And from my tour of the range, I would enthusiastically agree. While I understand the shooter’s worry, with the range covering more than 55 acres, I think there is room for more visitors. Read more
Hunter: John Mehall
Photo by: Brandon Kilstad
After my father had unexpected surgery, I worked to put together an elk hunt for my dad and my son. The draw deadline had passed, so I focused on over-the-counter (OTC) units with public land, choosing one in the San Juan Mountains. Summer scouting revealed one bull that stood out among the others. My Dad took a 5X5 on opening morning then it began to snow so I hunted close to camp. During a break in the clouds, I spotted a herd and the big bull several valleys away. I headed out well before daylight and hiked about 8 miles at 12,000 feet. Nearing the basin, a few cows came over the ridge and pinned me down above tree line. While I lay there, the storm worsened with howling wind and lightening. When the cows fed off, I bolted for the trees to get out of the wind. Then I spotted the rest of the herd coming over the ridge, including the big bull. I crawled out from behind the trees and went prone with my rifle steadied on the bipod. I struggled to see through the snow with the scope, and scooped snow out of the scope repeatedly. As he was entering a drainage, I was able to see well enough to pick out the big bull against the snow. One shot at 425 yards with my .338 Ultra Mag put him down at 12,167 feet. We all returned the next day with a camera and horses to pack him out.
Get the most out of your time in the field this fall by purchasing the 2016 Colorado Outdoors Hunting Guide. This special edition of Colorado Outdoors magazine features a big-game hunting forecast with statewide population estimates for elk, deer, pronghorn, moose and bear, as well as the inside scoop on all things big-game hunting from CPW wildlife managers and biologists. In addition, this issue provides strategies for pulling off the perfect pheasant hunt and offers tips on processing your own game meat. To view an entire contents page for this issue, click HERE. Purchase your copy or an annual subscription today.
A father and son hunting GMU 37. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis
If Colorado’s big-game seasons were a football game, we’d be halfway through the first quarter. Muzzleloader season just ended (but keep your muzzleloader out for rifle seasons, if you choose) and bowhunting continues until Sept. 25. If you haven’t ventured afield yet, there are still over-the-counter licenses available. Time to get in the game.
Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.