Walt Farrington and his hunting buddies from Wisconsin have already sent in their applications for 2004 big game licenses. They've been looking at pictures and maps of Northwest Colorado, and they're making plans to get off work for a third-season deer hunt.
Five in the party have never been to Colorado.
"I've been showing them pictures of the ranch and the land and they're all excited about it," Farrington said.
In a sense, hunting season has already begun for Farrington and his party, and for hundreds of thousands of hunters in Colorado and beyond.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife's 2004 big game brochures arrived in the mail and at sporting goods stores last week. The 60-page booklet outlines hunting regulations, season dates and numerous other aspects of big game hunting, including chronic wasting disease information.
For avid hunters, it was a much-anticipated arrival.
"We had guys here the first day," said David Hutton, owner of Craig Sports.
Even before the brochures were available, Hutton's customers were calling or stopping by the store, asking when the information would arrive.
Hunters must complete applications and return them to the DOW by April 6 in order to have a chance at limited licenses that are only available through the draw.
A 12-member hunting party asked advice from Hutton about which season to hunt, and which areas to target.
"During the application process, we get a lot of phone calls from people wanting advice," Hutton said.
Juanita Cordova works at Cashway Distributors, which sells licenses, guns and other hunting gear.
Her customers have been inquiring about the brochures since January, Cordova said. The brochures are flying off the rack now that they're in stock.
Hunters who can't come in person are calling to request copies.
"Especially out-of-state hunters," Cordova said. "We're always mailing out the big game brochures to them."
The store builds a mailing list during hunting season. Once the brochures come out, Cashway sends its customers a copy along with a Cashway flyer.
Like the proprietors of other sporting goods stores, Nick Kamzalow is eyeing the brochure to make his own hunting plans. Kamzalow and his employees at Outdoor Connections have to coordinate to decide who can be in the store when the others are out hunting.
Since hunters won't know until this summer, whether they've actually drawn a license, there will be precious little time to finalize their plans before the season starts, Kamzalow said.
Some just plan to come out anyway, and if they don't draw a license, they can pick up one of the over-the-counter licenses.
For those who hope to get into coveted hunting units like 2, 10, and 201, the application is the first step to securing a once-in-a-lifetime license.
And even if they don't draw, hunters can build preference points by applying.
It takes five or six years to build enough points to draw an antelope license, Hutton said. It may take decades to get a license to hunt a bull elk in Unit 201.
Farrington said he and his friends don't expect any trouble drawing buck tags for their hunt northwest of Craig.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.