This time of year, most outdoors-obsessed Coloradans grab their cell phones, Nikons, Canons — anything with a lens — and head to the mountains in search of Instagram-worthy photos of changing aspens. Local TV forecasters show detailed maps of peak times in peak areas, guiding caravans of leaf lovers into the hills. For them, the official signs of the change of season are mountains painted yellow and gold.
I, however, wanted to chronicle a different sign of the season — one more interesting to orange-clad hunters: that of mule deer bucks shedding their antler velvet. During the first few weeks of September, a few times a week, I would leave work and head to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge in northeast Denver hoping to find bucks lit by the golden-hour light. At the Arsenal, they have decent populations of both mule and white-tailed deer, but by the time I started this project, the whitetail bucks had all shed their velvet.
Andy Holland, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife big game manager, thinks that the peak date for mule deer shedding is Sept. 15. “But it varies,” he says. Read more
The mule deer gets its name from its overly large ears. In its scientific classification, Odocoileus hemionus, the species name is Latin for “half-mule.” The white-tailed deer is Odocoileus virginianus — the later part of that title referring to when the species was once known as the “Virginia deer.” If mule deer get their common name from up front, whitetails get theirs from the other end. However, the majority of the time you see more white on the tail end of a mule deer, which has a very large patch of white, only partly covered by a rope-like, white tail with a black tip. Whether the tail is up or down, you can always see plenty of white on the rump of a mule deer. A whitetail, on the other hand, normally covers most of its narrow white patch with a thick, dark tail but raises its tail to alert, or flag, others of danger. To make it an effective defense mechanism, the difference between “calm” and “freaked out” has to be as big as possible. Read more
I grew up hunting, hiking, camping, canoeing, and trapping in the woodlands and wildlands of northern Minnesota in the Chippewa and Superior National Forests. But after moving to Colorado, I transitioned from northern Minnesota white-tailed deer hunting to southwestern Colorado Rocky Mountain elk hunting. My hunting grounds of choice: the Hermosa-Hesperus Peak Roadless Area in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. At 148,000 acres, it’s our state’s largest roadless area.
Mike Murphy, a renowned southwest Colorado hunting guide, knows this terrain from decades of boots-on-the-ground, leg-and-lung-burnin’ hunts. He’s guided untold numbers of (bow and rifle) elk hunters and has countless tales of tough hunts, client fiascos, elk rodeos, real rodeos, and bear run-ins. Mike will also tell you that Colorado elk hunting remains tops in the world.
With an elk herd totaling some 290,000 head, Colorado has the largest number of elk per square mile in North America, which feeds a $2-billion-a-year hunting and fishing industry in the state. And elk hunting alone contributes nearly $300 million to that tally. Read more
This or that? Applying for either-sex licenses will increase our chance of success. Photos by Wayne D. Lewis (CPW).
April 1st is quickly approaching. Normally I would be planning an April Fools’ prank or two, but not this year. If my hunting partner, Alex, and I do not get our big-game limited license applications submitted in time, we will be the fools.
Alex and I needed advice, tons of it, and help was just a door away. Amy Bulger’s office is right next to mine where she does an incredible, and sometimes thankless, job producing the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) regulation brochures. After a short chat, Amy offered up the services of her newlywed husband, Aaron. He built CPW’s hunt planner program, and for years guided hunters through the application process. He has since left the agency for a career as a paramedic and fireman, but he has taken his knowlege with him. (CPW hunt planners can be reached from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (MST) Monday through Friday at 303-291-7526 (303-291-PLAN).
The author’s quest for an elk has just begun. Photo by Wayne D. Lewis (CPW).
One of the most discussed barriers for novice hunters getting out to hunt is that they have no one to go with. Those novice hunters haven’t met Alex . He is an Illinois resident, and an avid whitetail and turkey hunter, beaver and otter trapper, and warm-water fisherman. A typical weekend will find him taking his three kids to a movie, or to a park to play catch, but that’s after they all go sighting in their bows at a range. He is also a lover of all things Colorado. And when a hunter sets sights on Colorado, the main target is elk.
Alex and I met briefly years ago, but a few months back ran into each other (like everyone does nowadays) online. Our chats quickly turned to an elk hunt. I offered to help him scout, and then go along to document and photograph his hunt for an article in Colorado Outdoors, the magazine for which I am editor and art director. With a pitbull’s tenacity, his hunt quickly became our hunt. He figured if I’m out there with him, I should be hunting. And, BAM, with that push, this long-time employee of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is going on his first hunt in more than 30 years. Read more