Harold Gooding first set his eyes on Northwest Colorado on Friday and immediately spotted a few elk.
It was just what the hunter from Centralia, Mo., wanted to see. Gooding and hundreds of others are pouring into Northwest Colorado for the first big-game rifle season that begins today and runs through Wednesday.
"It's probably like hunting for a wife," he said. "I'm just like everybody else. I'd be tickled pink to get a nice big elk."
Hunters from near and far gathered at the Bears Ears Sportsman Club on Thursday and Friday for a sight-in -- an opportunity for hunters to accurately align their rifle scopes, which may be skewed from travel. At $5 a head, the sight-in is the gun club's biggest yearly fund-raiser and attracts up to 800 shooters, said Andy Bullen, director of the event.
"The idea is when you go hunting, you want to know if your rifle is going to hit what you aim at," Bullen said. "It's amazing how much a gun can be right on in Pennsylvania, but by the time they get here, it can be way off."
Hunting buddies Paul Fanelli and Tim Kowal attended the sight-in because they also wanted a shot at one of Northwest Colorado's 100,000 elk. The men road-tripped from Medina, Ohio, in a sport utility vehicle filled with coolers and camping equipment. The plan is -- providing they bag an elk -- to store the animal in the coolers and secure the rest of the equipment on the vehicle's top. Then, the hunting partners will make a quick two-day trek home, with the elk surrounded by dry ice.
"Everybody's waiting to see what we bring back," Kowal said. "This is my time away from it all. When we go on the hill, I'll leave the cell phone in the truck."
Troy Gilmour and Frank Wojie made a beeline for Craig on Thursday, driving nonstop from Las Vegas in a 681-mile journey. The two attended the sight-in because they wanted their rifles to be ready for today's hunt.
"It makes us that much more confident," Wojie said of calibrating their rifles.
Confidence is important because the two have high hopes of making successful hits. The trip is a vacation for Gilmour, who works as a home inspector.
"I need a break from my business," he said. "I need to kill something."
The annual sight-in often is a good starting point for out-of-town hunters, Bears Ears member Gary Bodnouich said.
Newcomers can pick up tips on the best places to hunt and reinforce hunter safety tactics.
"We get quite a few hunters each year who have never been here before," he said. "We can answer their questions."
Outfitters will bring in hunters to assess a shooter's competency with a gun, said Larry Irvin, who runs the C-Punch Ranch near Hamilton.
"I think it's important to bring out our hunters," he said. "This gives them confidence in the field and gives us an idea of who we're working with."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 at firstname.lastname@example.org