Private services take you off the beaten path

From food and equipment to travel and lodging, planning an annual hunting excursion can be an expensive undertaking.

That's why many hunters, particularly those from outside Colorado, look to maximize their experience through a variety of private hunting services.

Hunters can find solitude and lots of elk on about 3,800 acres of oak brush- and aspen-covered land north of Craig. Robin and Willie White lease the private land and offer trespass-fee hunting through their business, The Craig Wild Bunch.

The Craig Wild Bunch, originally a group of locals looking for a reprieve from competition on public land, now attracts a core group of hunters from California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and other states.

"We get the actual true-blue working class hunter interested in doing his own thing," Robin White said.

While the business offers guides for first-time hunters, The Craig Wild Bunch specializes in self-guided hunts. Hunters camp with their own equipment at the ranch compound or stay at motels in Craig.

To minimize effects on the land and to ensure an authentic experience, no motor vehicles are allowed in the field and no more than 20 hunters are out at one time.

The Craig Wild Bunch can be contacted at (970) 824-9334.

Hunters who want to focus solely on the hunt can opt for full-service hunts through companies such as Vanatta Outfitters.

The company leases 40,000 acres of private and public land for its guided trips, which offer hunters a good chance of harvesting a trophy elk.

We have the amenities of being at home, a full-time cook and five experienced guides," owner Lonny Vanatta said.

Vanatta, who has operated the business for 21 years, carefully manages the land to minimize pressure on herds.

They participate in Colorado's Ranching for Wildlife program through the Division of Wildlife.

Under the program, the ranch works to increase and improve wildlife habitat while maintaining a healthy balance between agriculture and wildlife herds. In exchange, the state allows a longer hunting season on the ranch, ultimately resulting in healthier herds.

Participating in the program guarantees them a certain number of licenses for 90 days during the season.

"We want to make sure it's a good quality hunt and also manage the game better," Vanatta said.

The outfitter uses two pieces of land for the hunts. A range 25 miles north of Craig offers about 17,000 acres of privately owned land. The range used south of Craig has 25,000 acres of public land and 2,500 privately owned acres.

"It's a good overall experience," Vanatta said. "There are no guarantees in hunting on any type of hunt, but we do guarantee a good experience with good guides and good food."

Vanatta said his clients are typically people who are willing to pay a little bit more money to be comfortable.

"We charge a little more because we do get a lot for your hunt," Vanatta said.
Vanatta Outfitters can be contacted by calling (970) 879-6164.

Straddling the Colorado-Wyoming border is the Three Forks Ranch, offering hunters a premier hunting experience on 50,000 acres of private land in Colorado.

Depending on the animal hunters hope to harvest -- antelope are the least expensive and elk the most -- hunters pay $5,000 to $8,750 for a five-day stay at the ranch.

Included in the price are guided hunts, with one guide for every two hunters, luxury rooms and five-star dining.

The ranch is has an air taxi service for its clients as well as clients of other outfitters and sporting resorts in the region. The taxi takes visitors from Denver to Three Forks, Kremmling, Saratoga, Wyo., Meeker and other areas.

The well-known ranch, which regularly hosts hunting shows for the Outdoor Life Network and ESPN, is booked for the 2006 season and is taking reservations for 2007.

While the ranch has its share of affluent clients, it also is a popular hunting destination for middle class hunters, he said.

About 95 percent of hunters harvest an animal on the land, which is managed in conjunction with Colorado's Ranching for Wildlife program.

The ranch can be reached by calling (970) 583-7396.

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