With the big game hunting draws completed, Colorado and Moffat County got a good sign for the 2013 hunting season despite concerns about the new firearm legislation that’s slated to take effect July 1.
After Colorado House Bills 13-1224 and 13-1229 were signed into law earlier this year, there was concern about the potential hit to hunting when many out-of-state hunters said they would boycott Colorado if the gun laws passed. While there are still several steps to go in the license sales and distribution process, the limited big game draw showed a 4 percent increase in demand for Colorado in 2013 compared to 2012.
For elk — one of the major draws to hunting in Colorado and the Northwestern part of the state specifically — demand was also up from 2012. According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2013 elk draw summary, more than 197,000 people put in for elk licenses in Colorado, compared to 191,000 last year.
Of the 103,000 people who drew licenses, 28,452 were not residents of Colorado, a figure up by just more than 400 from 2012. In every game management unit in Moffat County (GMUs 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 13, 01, 211 and 301), the demand for cow elk licenses were equal to or higher than last year, according to the summary. Mule deer demand was also up this year.
To Colorado Parks and Wildlife, that is a good sign to meet their goal of managing herds, although several factors, such as the sales of leftover licenses, remain to be seen.
The laws "really won’t affect hunting, and hunting regulations have not changed,” said Mike Porras, public information officer for CPW’s Northwest Region. “I don’t know if there’s any way of saying that right now we think this has affected us one way or another. During the application and draw process, we saw the 4-percent increase, and that’s a positive sign. We still need to see over-the-counter licenses and sales.”
Chris Jurney, owner of Chris Jurney Outfitting, in Craig, thinks the over-the-counter sales is where Colorado could see some trouble, even beginning this year.
“Some of the limited draws, you have a higher potential for trophy animals, so a boycott won’t necessarily show up in a limited draw,” Jurney said. “It’s really not a good indicator of how many of them may follow through with a boycott. The place it will show up this year is during the over-the-counter, second and third seasons. There’s still a demand, there’s no doubt about it. But I believe we’re going to be affected.”
Nonresident hunters are an important part of the hunting economy in Colorado, accounting for 17 percent of the CPW budget in fiscal year 2011-12, according to CPW data.
Local outfitters remain unsure of what the future holds. While 2013 appears to be another good year for hunting in Colorado so far, people are concerned about the years to come when nonresident hunters won’t have their plans already in place.
Shari Kempton of R&R Ranch of Colorado, based of out Maybell, is a landowner from Florida who shared in the experience of watching the Colorado laws pass from afar. She heard immediate concern from hunters but feels that it has died down some.
“I think everybody got nervous at first and a lot of my regular hunters called and were asking questions,” Kempton said. “I just had to tell them I thought everything was going to be OK. I think so far it has been OK.”
Parks and Wildlife has been attempting to educate the public about the actual effects the new house bills could have on hunting. Specifically in reference to HB 13-1229, which requires background checks before the transfer or sale of a gun. Hunting activities are exempt so long as the hunting is legal and the transferee of the gun has the required permit for the firearm.
Some of this further dissecting of the bill has helped alleviate some of the concern about the gun laws, Porras said.
“The level of discourse and the level of conversation has diminished,” he said. “The number of calls to our agency is down, at least from what I’ve seen. I’m sure there are still people who are upset about the new laws and are expressing it in other forums.”
But Jurney believes it is still a major concern around the country and an issue that is not going away anytime soon.
“It hasn’t died down, we’ve just gotten past the time period where everyone’s talking to each other,” he said. “It’s true it doesn’t actually affect hunting, but it’s more of a principle issue than anything else.”
Jurney, a member of the Colorado Outfitters Association, has seen the passion and disappointment that hunters share about the laws. He represented the Colorado Outfitters Association at the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting and Exhibits May 3 to 5 in Houston and experienced it firsthand.
“Hunting is something where it’s not as much as about sustenance as sporting and recreation activity anymore,” Jurney said. “It’s not something (nonresidents) have to come out here every year to do, so if (the law) affects them deeply in their heart and what they believe, there’s no real reason to come. And we’ve felt that loud and clear.”
The bigger concern at this point for Kempton is the herds — especially of mule deer — continuing to rebound to larger numbers, so more of her regulars can draw the tags and get the hunts they want.
Regardless of the gun laws or the exact herd sizes, Colorado should still be considered a destination hunting state, Porras said.
“Colorado still has the best hunting in the country,” he said. “We have some of the largest elk herds in the country and it’s a great place to hunt. We have over-the-counter bull elk licenses, not available anywhere else in the country. A hunter can come into Colorado and buy a license to hunt an elk without drawing one. There is still a lot of opportunity in Colorado.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org