As Colorado’s main hunting seasons progress, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds hunters that good judgment and ethical behavior are critical to ensure a safe and successful hunting experience, the agency said in a news release.
The wildlife agency said in that release over 250,000 hunters enjoy the big game seasons in the state each year, adding billions of dollars annually to the state's tourism economy. Based on the number of incidents versus the overall number of hunters, it appears that the vast majority are careful in the field.
However, officers say that even one incident of carelessness is too many, the release stated.
"We ask for 100 percent compliance," Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde said in the release. "Because of the serious consequences of an accident, avoiding this kind of mistake entirely should be every hunter's primary goal."
The reminder was prompted by several incidents of hunters shooting the wrong game during the first part of the main hunting seasons this year, including moose that have been mistakenly shot by elk hunters and at least one case of a hunter that shot a mule deer he believed was an elk, according to the release.
"Every hunter should know that if they not 100 percent certain about the target, do not pull that trigger," Velarde said in the release. "It is a serious concern that some hunters are either unable to properly identify their target, or are simply too impatient to take a responsible shot.”
Wildlife managers say that accidents usually involve a combination of poor judgment, low-light conditions, a long-distance view of the animal and not using a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, the release stated.
"A serious hunter understands the importance of good optics," said Dean Riggs, Assistant Regional Manager in the Northwest Region, in the release. "In some of these incidents, it is likely that the use of a binoculars or a spotting scope could have helped the hunter identify their target."
Riggs advises that using a rifle scope only to identify a potential target may not give the best view of the animal and its surroundings, and it could create a situation where the hunter points his rifle at someone's pet, livestock or in the worst case scenario another hunter, according to the release.
"A hunter that points his rifle at a person can face serious consequences, even if it is by accident," Riggs said in the release. "It's just not safe to point a firearm at anything you don't intend to shoot."
Wildlife officers stress that before a novice heads into the field, being able to identify the animal they are hunting is an important step. For the experienced hunter, being patient and avoiding making assumptions based on prior experience is critical. For everyone in the field, a good tip is to study the entire animal - from its head to its hindquarters - before taking the shot, the release stated.
The penalties for shooting the wrong game can be serious. Wildlife officers stated in the release that if a hunter compounds the accident by abandoning the carcass and failing to report the incident, they could face felony charges, several thousand dollars in fines, the permanent loss of hunting privileges in Colorado and 37 other states that participate in the national Wildlife Violator Compact, and possible imprisonment.
Hunters that mistakenly kill the wrong animal are urged to immediately field dress the animal and contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife as soon as possible. Wildlife officers will seize the animal and donate the meat, and officers will take prompt reporting into consideration when assessing penalties, according to the release.
Anyone who sees suspicious activity in the field are asked to contact a local District Wildlife Manager, or Operation Game Thief toll-free at 877-COLO-OGT (877-265-6648). Callers contacting the tip line remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to a poacher, the release stated.
For a video showing the differences between elk and moose, click here.