With hunters by the thousands preparing to descend on Northwest Colorado, there is one group of volunteers that is awaiting the arrival with spotting scopes and earplugs.
The Bears Ears Sportsman's Club has been helping hunters sight in their rifles for 20 years, and members have set the dates for this year's hunting seasons.
"The two days before the start of each of the four rifle seasons, we will be set up to take hunters at the rifle range," club member Andy Bullen said.
Oct. 12, 13, 19 and 20 are the dates to sight-in rifles for the first two rifle seasons. Sight-ins also are set for Nov. 2, 3, 13 and 14. Sight-ins start at 10 a.m. and go until dark at Cedar Mountain Range on Moffat County Road 7.
Bullen, who has been shooting at the range for 30 years, said the goal is simple.
"We try to optimize the capabilities of the gun," he said. "There have been too many misses over the years where game was lost or wounded."
Bullen said volunteers from the club are on hand each day to ensure that rifles can hit where they are aimed. He said many hunters think their weapons are accurate but that the weapons may have been bumped in travel or handled roughly by airlines en route to Colorado.
"We have some rifles, even brand new guns, where the screws have come loose, and it's shooting all over the place," Bullen said. "We've learned to look for loose screws."
He said an average sight-in takes about 15 minutes and that the $5 cost is well-worth the peace of mind just knowing that a rifle is shooting accurately.
Club members have screwdrivers of every size, shape and style to work on most rifles.
Rifles are sighted in to be about an inch higher than the crosshair mark at 100 yards, Bullen said. That way, at 200 yards, the hunter should be on target to hit any vital organs he or she is aiming for.
With many hunters only shooting their rifles for one week each year during hunting season, Bullen said practice rounds fired at the range could be the difference between taking home game and missing the chance for a trophy.
"After cleaning a rifle, it might take from one to four shots out of the clean barrel before they are consistently hitting in the same place," he said. "It's a good thing to do every year, just for the confidence of knowing that your rifle is right on."
Bullen said spotters at the range also watch for hunters' bad habits, such as flinching while pulling triggers. That way, spotters can try to coach hunters before the real shooting starts.
He recommends that hunters use the same ammunition to sight-in as they are using on the hunt.
Eight to 10 volunteers will be available each day at the range, which includes paper targets set at 100 yards and steel targets at ranges from 150 to 400 yards.
After each shot, spotters mark duplicate targets on the bench to show hunters exactly where they are hitting.
For more information, call Andy Bullen at 824-8407.