Kathy Ogle of Craig Sports demonstrates the process people must go through to apply for their hunting license.

Hans Hallgren

Kathy Ogle of Craig Sports demonstrates the process people must go through to apply for their hunting license.

Moffat a hunting destination

— Despite a national U.S. Fish and Wildlife report stating hunting and fishing participation is declining around the country, and the mountain region specifically, regional Division of Wildlife representatives and local hunting license dealers say the game is as good as ever in Moffat County.

In a July survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife found the number of hunters nationally decreased by 4 percent from 2001 to 2006.

Though hunters and fishers are a higher percentage of the mountain region population than the national average, it saw the largest decrease in numbers of outdoor sportsmen nation-wide, at 15 percent.

Although the DOW is aware of the declining trend and is taking steps to ensure that Colorado's parks and wildlife never suffer funding losses due to decreased hunting license sales, it is not concerned for hunting's future in Northwest Colorado, said DOW spokesperson Randy Hampton, who works out of Grand Junction.

"We continue to have more demand than we do supply of licenses," Hampton said. "There is a concern over the drop in hunter participation nationally. We are doing things now to encourage new audiences, especially women and children, to hunt and fish that may be interested but have never done it before."

Hampton pointed to the numbers of people taking required hunter education classes offered by the DOW for first-time hunters. For the past several years, that number of new hunters has remained at around 17,000, and has not decreased recently.

"Northwest Colorado is destination hunting," Hampton said. "It's strong and continues to be strong. We are blessed in Colorado, and Northwest Colorado particularly, with a tremendous amount of public land, and that continues to be a boon for hunters."

Although the amount of public land is not diminishing, the amount of hunting land is, Hampton said. Urbanization and population growth, which has diminished a lot of wildlife land on the Front Range, has crept into western Colorado.

Not in the way that cities spring up and swallow natural habitat, Hampton began. But ranches that used to be more open to hunters, because agriculture was grown there and farmers wanted to reduce the number of animals eating their crops, are now being bought by wealthier owners who do not mind the wildlife and do not want trespassing.

Joe Herod, owner of Craig Sports, has seen that happen locally, but he is not worried about seeing open hunting lands disappear.

"People that are able to buy those lands have every right," Herod said. "A lot of these ranchers do outfitting on their land still because the cattle (business) can't make it."

As far as experiencing a drop in interest, or a drop in customers, Herod said that has not been the case for Moffat County.

Leftover hunting licenses after the state draw are down from last year. Where he had 20 to 21 pages of licenses last year, he only has 17 this year, meaning more kinds of licenses sold out in the draw.

"If you read any of the hunting magazines, you see Northwest Colorado has one of the highest population of elk in the world," Herod said. "When they publish those articles, it makes everyone want to come to Colorado."

Each year, hunters fill up the parks and public land areas around Moffat County, Herod said.

"One year, we had guys staying in a tent in our front pasture, because there's nowhere else for them to go," Herod said.

That trend may increase in the future since the elk and deer populations have gotten so big around Moffat County, Hampton said.

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