Hunters, businesses take aim

Rifle hunting season for elk starts today and runs through next month

Bill Wilkes is from Athens, Ga., but after coming to Craig to hunt for the past 17 years, he thinks Northwest Colorado almost feels like home.

"I love it up here," Wilkes said Friday at the Cedar Mountain Rifle Range, where he and his hunting party sighted in their rifles.

Saturday is the first day of rifle season for elk and deer, and thousands of hunters like Wilkes are coming to Northwest Colorado for the occasion.

"We do real well up here," Wilkes said.

He plans to wake up at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday, grab some coffee and head out to the private ranch where he hunts.

By about 11 a.m., he hopes to be at the Craig Village Inn for lunch.

Wilkes comes to Cedar Mountain for the Bears Ears Sportsman's Club's hunter sight-in every year.

Andy Bullen, director of the sight-in program, said Wilkes is not alone.

"When they have been here once, they generally come back," Bullen said.

Bears Ears holds a sight in the Thursday and Friday before the opening day of every rifle season.

Bullen said hunters from across the country come to the event every year.

After they know they can hit the paper target at 100 yards, Bullen said hunters have more confidence when they see an animal in the wild.

Bullen plans to hunt second season this year. After hunting in Northwest Colorado for 25 years, he said he isn't really excited, just ready.

"I don't really get excited about it anymore," he said.

But Ohio's Jim Caserta and Jim Thellman are excited for Saturday's hunt.

Caserta, Thellman and the rest of their four-man hunting party are hunting in the area for the first time this weekend.

Like Wilkes, Caserta and Thel--l--man were at Cedar Mountain on Friday to sight in their rifles before heading out bright and early Saturday morning.

"At 400 yards, if we miss, it's our fault," Caserta joked after sighting in.

The group found out about hunting near Craig by looking for outfitters on the Internet.

"We'll find out tomorrow if we made the right decision," Caserta said.

Local businesses are gearing up for an influx of hunters, as well.

At the Elk Run Inn, on Victory Way, all the rooms are filled through the end of rifle season next month.

Nancy Lorentz, who works the front desk, said some hunters reserved their rooms before leaving last season.

She said hunters tend to be very good customers.

"They go out, come back and eat, and go to bed," she said. "Then they get up early the next morning and do it again."

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