Welcome to the 2011 issue of Colorado Hunter, the premier guide to big-game hunting in this beautiful place we call Northwest Colorado. There’s a reason the hunters among us call the region home. Come fall, it offers some of the best deer and elk hunting in the world, whether you’re pulling back a bow or sighting in a scope.
If Colorado has a hunting hotspot, it’s likely Northwest Colorado. Open up any map and set your sights over the upper left corner. Your scope lines cross on one of the truly great regions in the country for outdoorsmen, and the ideal destination for your next hunting adventure.
Every hunting season, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers issue thousands of tickets for violations that can result in steep fines for the offenders. “While some of those tickets are for flagrant violations of wildlife regulations and hunting laws, many more are for minor violations that could have been avoided,” Parks and Wildlife reports in a recent news release.
While hunting accidents have declined since the passage of two laws in 1970 — one requiring hunter education training and another requiring wearing at least 500 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing — accidents still happen. “Hunting is safe and getting safer all the time,” says Colorado Parks and Wildlife hunter education coordinator Mark Cousins, adding that the state sells more than 560,000 hunting licenses every year, resulting in several million hunter recreation days.
High temperatures can delay herd migrations
As everyone gears up for this year’s hunting season, most preparation involves deciding where to hunt, which season and how to approach it. But there’s another consideration to take into account. A few environmental factors have changed in the past few years that have affected big-game movement patterns. Until about six years ago, many elk hunters could count on elk migrating to lower elevations into their winter range during rifle season. This allowed for seeing herds moving across the landscape, providing the possibility for a harvest.
DEER: • Resident — $34 • Youth resident — $13.75 • Nonresident — $334 • Youth nonresident — $103.75
Garrett Spears wasn’t sure what to expect when he returned to the football field in October last year against Battle Mountain. Spears, then a Moffat County High School junior, blew his knee out at summer camp at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. On the fourth play of the camp’s first day, Spears, who was projected to start at center for MCHS, got in position to block his opponent, but something went wrong.
Imagine a place bound by isolation, where an unforgiving landscape surrounds you at all points of the compass, and sometimes the only thing between you and death is how fast you can draw your gun. Imagine that, and you’ve got a picture of what life may have been like in the Old West that Ron Franscell chronicles in “The Crime Buff’s Guide to the Outlaw Rockies,” a collection of historical vignettes published this year by Globe Pequot Press documenting a darker, seamier side of Colorado and Wyoming history.
The Moffat County High School boys varsity soccer team recorded its best season in the program’s 20-year history in the fall of 2010. At the end of the year, which included a playoff appearance, coach Rusty Cox was confident that despite inevitable roster changes his team would stay competitive in 2011. Confidence turned into certainty after Cox watched his team in the first week of practice.
Alfredo Lebron said he isn’t cocky or conceded, but the Moffat County High School senior knows what's expected of him this cross-country season. “I have high expectations,” he said. “I trained all summer as much as I could so I can finish as high ranked as I am supposed to.” Meeting those expectations will be no easy task, as Lebron is the top returning runner in the state from last year’s 4A state cross-country meet.
Sandy Camilletti walked into the Moffat County High School gymnasium last summer with plenty of work ahead of her. As the newly appointed MCHS varsity volleyball head coach, Sandy missed spring workouts, summer camps and joined the team with only a few weeks before practice officially began. The Bulldogs went 6-13 in Sandy’s first year and 3-9 against Western Slope League foes, missing a chance to play in the state playoffs.
When Chloe Peterson and Leether Redmon were born, President William Howard Taft was in office, women had no constitutional voting rights and the automobile was considered a new innovation. What a difference a century, or in Leether’s case, almost 99 years, makes. Peterson and Redmon are the two oldest residents at the Sunset Meadows retirement community in Craig. They, along with seven other residents in their 90s, were honored earlier this month at a "Nifty 90s" party.
Last fall, Parker King was able to accomplish something no Moffat County High School golfer had been able to do since 2002 — qualify for the state tournament. King, then an MCHS junior, went into Montrose’s Coble Creek Golf Course with nothing to lose and walked away with a 4A state tournament berth. The last MCHS boy to qualify for the state tournament was Cody DeGuelle nine years ago.
Elk and deer aren’t the only things on hunters menus in Northwest Colorado. The region is also known for a variety of other species luring outdoorsmen to Moffat and Routt counties every year. Aside from antlered game — elk, deer and moose — the next most popular species on hunters’ lists is likely the pronghorn antelope. Rifle bearers far and wide descend upon the region’s sage-covered plains and rolling hills for long-range, open-country hunts far different than the tactics used for other game. And this year should prove especially fruitful pronghorn.
The decline in the White River mule deer herd has been a focal point of concern in Rio Blanco County as hunting season approaches and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife has taken notice. Biologist Darby Finley, mammals researcher Chuck Anderson and Division of Parks and Wildlife managers Bill de Vergie and Bailey Franklin have ideas about how to improve the herd numbers and want the community’s thoughts.
Local Rick Sanny bags cat, bear and elk, putting two in the record books
Local hunter Rick Sanny, who in 2006 moved to Steamboat Springs from Fremont, Neb.,“in pursuit of big game,” had a heck of a hunting year. The property manager for Old West Management bagged a bear, mountain lion and elk last season, two of which garnered state honors. “Last year was amazing,” says Sanny, also a ranch manager at Coal View Ghost Ranch. “Two of my three animals made it into the record book. Hard work, scouting and persistence paid off.”
Northwest Colorado towns offer nationally ranked options for outdoor activities
While hunters travel all across Colorado each year to bag big game, Craig offers one thing other towns don’t. “We have big-game hunting and a large population of other wildlife,” says Rob Schmitzer, the sportsman information specialist for the Craig Chamber of Commerce. “But we also have hundreds of thousands of acres of public land that aren’t over utilized. Craig offers solitude.” In Outdoor Life magazine’s fourth annual rankings of the top 200 towns for sportsmen, Craig ranked 77th, dropping nine spots from last year. But that’s fine with locals, who like to keep the outdoor gem to themselves.
Father-daughter hunting team gear-up for a special season
Eight-year-old Tiana Nichols had an early introduction to hunting. Very early. “Four days after she was born, I took her up to where my tree stand was,” father Gary Nichols says. “That kind of gives you an idea.” Gary, 56, is a deputy sheriff with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office. He hunts exclusively with a recurve bow and has been hunting in the area since 1989. He’s involved his daughter in hunts as much as possible since her birth in September 2002.
In this area, 9,700-foot Diamond Mountain is the highest point, dropping to 5,100 feet in elevation at the White River. Sage and sage-grassland dominate, with the typical vegetation groups as the elevation increases. Weather is generally mild through the later seasons, though the higher elevations can have significant snow accumulation. Public land accounts for more than 85 percent of GMU 201.
The Boy Scouts have it right: Be prepared
With most trophy animals off the beaten track, inherent risks come with chasing record-book racks. When hunting, you’ll often be far from help in unfamiliar terrain, and oftentimes you’ll be alone. Knowing basic survival techniques and packing appropriately for mishaps is essential. Just ask Steamboat Springs’ Darrel Levingston, a member of the Routt County Search and Rescue team who has spent many a cold night locating lost hunters.
As a checklist of what to take, Routt County search and rescue member Darrel Levingston cites the “Ten Essentials” from the Mountain Rescue Association’s General Backcountry Safety Workbook, with the ability to make fire, stay dry and orient oneself as principal packing priorities:
Hunting magazines often display colorful photographs of huge bull elk standing in open meadows presenting easy targets. The reality in the mountains of Colorado, however, is far different. Stalking these animals is challenging and you likely won’t get an easy shot.
Quality fishing can complement any elk outing
Done dressing your elk? With the Yampa River flowing through the heart of downtown Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Craig, the Elk and White rivers nearby, and countless smaller streams, lakes and reservoirs in the surrounding hillsides, Routt and Moffat counties are the perfect places to complement your hunt with trout fishing. “Fishing is the perfect companion activity to hunting,” says Brett Lee, a veteran hunter and co-owner of Straightline Sporting Goods in Steamboat Springs. “And Northwest Colorado offers some great options.”
NW Colo. home to numerous talented taxidermists
You’re in good hands if you’re looking to preserve your animal in Craig. The town’s taxidermists are in a league of their own, head and shoulders above those found elsewhere in the field. Want proof? In early June, two local taxidermists accomplished something that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Scott Moore and Leland Reinier submitted a collaborative piece to a taxidermy competition and won.
Local Nordic Olympians Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick as solid with bow as they are on skis
While Northwest Colorado is home to trophy elk and deer, it’s also home to hunters who brought home trophies from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Nordic combined skiers with ties to Steamboat Springs brought home seven silver medals from last year’s Games — enough to hang from every point of a Routt or Moffat county bull. And come hunting and fishing season, two of them — Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane — take a break from hunting world titles to set their sights on bow-hunting big game.
Olympic downhiller relishes his favorite hunt in Routt County
A member of the U.S. Ski team from 1987 to 2006, including making the Olympic downhill team in 1994, Steamboat-raised Craig Thrasher likes sighting big game as much as he does skiing. “I started hunting the first year I was old enough to hunt grouse, with a single shot .22,” he says. “And we normally got our birds.” He started bow hunting in the late ‘80s with fellow ski team member Lonny Vanatta, and claims he was the 70th person in Colorado to kill eight big game species with a bow.
Want to bag the largest deer in the world? In Northwest Colorado, it’s entirely possible. Since being reintroduced to the region — North Park, specifically — by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife in 1978, moose have thrived in an environment seeming tailor-made for them. Valleys thick with willows, streams, ponds and marshes provide food and shelter for moose, considered by biologists to be the world’s largest deer.
Hunting is a way of life in Northwest Colorado for Lawton family
Up at 3 a.m. Getting acclimated with horses. Heading out before the sun rises. After 15 years, the process is still fairly new to Carrie Lawton, who married into one of the most ardent hunting families in Northwest Colorado. But to her credit, she didn’t grow up with the same routine as the rest of her family. As part of the Lawton clan, Carrie has grown to appreciate the early morning timelessness of hunting as a result of spending time with family patriarch LeRoy Lawton.
Craig resident’s trophy bear kill erupts into statewide controversy
It was a shot that reverberated around the state and beyond. In November 2010, Craig resident Richard Kendall crawled to the mouth of a dark cave with a .45-70 caliber lever-action rifle. Inside lurked a 703-pound male black bear. Adrenaline pumping, Kendall glimpsed into the cave with a flashlight and briefly made eye contact with the animal.
Guided archery, muzzle-loading and rifle hunts for deer and elk from Horse Mountain in the Flat Tops area or for antelope from a desert ranch north of Craig.
Improved rangefinders, rifles, arrows all help today’s hunters
While people have been hunting big game for centuries, advances in equipment keep making it easier. Foremost on the list, says Rifle’s Kevin Rider, owner of Timberline Sporting Goods, are rangefinders, which help hunters discover exactly how far away a target is and the path their bullet or arrow will take.
Jennifer Vallem seems the right choice to take over the Moffat County High School spirit team considering her background. Vallem cheered in high school and college and has coaching experience in the Denver area. She also comes from a gymnastics background and has served as a USA Junior Olympic coach in gymnastics. So, with Vallem at the helm of this year’s squad, it comes as no surprise a change is in order.