The author displays a San Juan turkey.
I’ve hunted Merriam’s turkeys on public lands in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains for seven years running now with Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Habitat Watch Volunteer (HWV) Rick Hooley. Rick is a HWV for the San Juan National Forest, and there’s likely few outdoorsmen with his breadth and depth of hunting-angling experience in this part of the state.
We hunt an over-the-counter (OTC) unit, and the most recent Colorado Parks & Wildlife turkey harvest data (for 2015) shows a 30 perecent success rates for OTC licenses holders versus 50 percent for limited license holders. Realtree contributor, Steve Hickoff, says: “The [Colorado] Merriam’s population lives in some rugged country; their nomadic traits can really spread them out and test your patience. You can go for hours, even days, and not hear a gobble.”
But as American Hunter contributor, Sgt. Michael Marek (82nd Airborne Division), wrote: “If it was easy, everyone would do it … hunting is difficult, and that’s what makes being a hunter so great. You truly become a cut above the rest.” Mountain Merriam’s turkey hunting is both physically and mentally challenging, and—in my admittedly biased opinion—truly a cut above the rest. Read more
Photo by David Lien.
For the last six years I’ve been privileged to hunt public lands Merriam’s turkeys in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains with Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Habitat Watch volunteer Rick Hooley. Although Rick makes his living as a fly fishing outfitter/guide, he’s also a crack turkey and elk hunter.
In a May 2015 Colorado Outdoors Online story “5 Tips for Hunting Merriam’s Turkeys,” I shared some of what I’ve learned about turkey hunting from Rick and other informed hunters/sources. Here I’ll expand on some of what was covered in the 2015 tips and add a few new ones for this year. Read more
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.
The author with a Marriam’s tom.
Colorado has two subspecies of wild turkey—the Merriam’s, also known as the mountain turkey, and the Rio Grande, primarily found in eastern Colorado. Merriam’s are wanderers and frequent ponderosa pine forests. The Rio Grande prefer cottonwood trees along riparian areas. Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) says Rio Grande turkeys are larger and easier to locate than Merriam’s, so hunting them is generally not as difficult.
Merriam’s turkeys were historically found in the mountain forests of Colorado, New Mexico and northern Arizona. They have been transplanted into the pine forests of Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota. Merriam’s can be found not only in ponderosa pine forest but also other vegetation types in elevations ranging from 3,500 to 10,000 feet. Read more
Randi Clark (left) and Cathy Brons pose with their dog Avery on a recent duck hunt. Participation among women in shooting sports has grown in recent years.
Although there has been much written and said recently about adult-onset hunting and the growing numbers of females joining the ranks of hunters and shooters, women have always been a significant hunting demographic in North America. For starters, they pursued wild game alongside men in preindustrial, tribal societies. A Native American family could not drive to the grocery store to buy steaks for dinner. Hunting was necessary for survival.
When Europeans began colonizing North America, many pioneer women also learned that in order to survive they had to master the art of hunting and shooting. But as North America gradually shifted from traditional hunting and gathering societies into a postindustrial model, where earning capital in exchange for goods became the primary way to provide for families, roles changed. Read more
The San Juan Mountains in autumn. Photo by David Lien.
It’s mid-October in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The scrub oak is turning russet, aspen leaves are a bright shiny yellow, and golden crowns are growing thinner by the minute — yellow forms floating to the ground creating a carpet of wet, decaying leaves permeating the game trail I’m sitting next to.
It’s 8:10 a.m., and I’ve just spent perhaps two minutes as close as 25 feet to a small group of elk (three cows, one calf and a bull). The encounter ended with one shot fired, a thunder of hooves and the echoing bellow of a sizable bull. Although I’m confident the shot was fatal, the bull did not drop in his tracks, and I wait 15 minutes before trailing him.
While waiting, I recall the words of a fellow elk hunter, Allen Morris Jones, in “A Quite Place of Violence”: “A badly wounded elk, if it doesn’t die immediately, will usually go only a short distance before lying down, sick. If given enough time, maybe just a few minutes, it will die there. If it’s forced to keep walking, it can walk its wounds away.” Read more
Photo by ©Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.
With the possible exception of the pronghorn, there’s likely no keener eye, ear, nose and nerve combination in nature than that found in the genus Cervidae, the deer family. And within the deer family many would argue that elk are the most difficult to hunt for a number of reasons, including finely tuned senses that help them evade hunters in the vast majority of human-elk encounters.
As hunters know from hours, days and years of stalking, sitting, watching and waiting each fall in the woods, routine noises often come from three sources: squirrels, birds and the wind or other natural occurrences. The sounds of leaves rustling or branches breaking can usually be attributed to one of the three, and the telltale sounds of approaching elk (or other animals) are oftentimes nearly indistinguishable.
So hunters are constantly interpreting sounds (combined with visual input) to determine if an elk is nearby. It’s often imperative that split-second decisions be made based solely on these easy-to-misinterpret auditory inputs in order to successfully kill big game. The vast majority of noises heard by hunters do not require any action, but when they’re made by big game we must be prepared to act without being detected. Read more
When I was a kid growing up in northern Minnesota during the 1970s, most of my friends hunted and fished, and many trapped, but my outdoors social circles during those elementary and early middle school years were boys’ clubs. It was rare to encounter a girl who hunted, although, there were surely many about. In recent years, though, women are a bright spot in the general downward hunting-numbers trend.
Women are spending more time in tree stands and duck blinds — and putting fresh meat on the table. Although men still account for the vast majority of the 13.7 million U.S. hunters, the number of women actively hunting is on the rise. The total number of women hunters surged by 25 percent between 2006 and 2011, after holding steady for a decade, according to Census Bureau statistics. At last count, 11 percent of all U.S. hunters were women, compared to 9 percent in 2006.
“During the 1980s, we saw a pretty good increase in women hunting, which flattened out in the 1990s,” said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a research firm specializing in outdoor recreation trends. “And now there seems to be an increase in the past three or four years.” Read more
Aspen trees in their autumn splendor. Photo by David Lien.
Fall is by far my favorite season, for obvious reasons. And if I was king, I’d simply declare 12 months of October, then set up camp in one of my wildest kingdoms: Colorado’s high and mighty San Juan Mountains. During October 2012, I hiked out of this wild kingdom without an elk, despite having multiple close encounters with bulls and cows, including enjoying the company of a small elk herd rousting me awake in camp several nights running.
It was the second year I’d hunted this section of Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, and my first year of backpack camp (vs. car-camp) hunting. I found a place far enough from a road to find elk, but not as far as the outfitters/horse hunters who seemed to be around every bend in the adjacent wilderness area. Where I was going, you had to go on foot, and the San Juan Mountains are (to borrow the Backcountry Hunters & Angler’s tagline) made for “using the quads god gave you!”
Although only about a mile from the nearest road, the precipitous terrain, in between, gains over 1,500 feet, forcing would-be elk hunters to climb around (or straight up) nearly vertical cliffs and onto high ridges while negotiating a disorienting and exhausting maze of fallen timber separating aspen-clad benches that provide precious little in the way of flat tent terrain. But this is standard stuff in Colorado, which is why I refer to elk hunting here as “mountaineering with a gun.” Read more
Clouds float above the San Juan Mountains in southeast Colorado. Photo by David Lien.
An elk begins its life in late May or early June as a 35-pound calf, spending most of its first two weeks lying low and hiding from predators — mainly bears, mountain lions and coyotes. Surviving bulls can grow to 1,000 pounds. Obviously, this species is big, one of the biggest hooved animals in North America, and everything about a mature bull is big.
A pair of antlers from a mature Rocky Mountain elk will weigh between 20 and 30 pounds. His bones are thick and heavy, his hide is tough, he has a remarkable tenacity, and his stamina is incredible. Standing as high as 5 feet at the shoulder, a bull elk with a full rack of antlers is an impressive sight. Read more