Dry fall means slow start to hunting season on public lands, private outfitter sees opposite
Cold, wet weather this weekend could push elk lower, increase odds of filling tags
RIFLE — Hunting season for big game in Western Colorado opened on Oct. 15 and ended Oct. 19. With a week and a half break in between, the second season begins Saturday, Oct. 29, and runs through Nov. 6.
The hot and dry start to fall has so far negatively affected the success rate for those hunting on public lands south of Glenwood Springs in the Fourmile and Thompson Creek area, according to John Groves, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager for the Carbondale District.
“Overall, it’s going fairly slowly. Most of the people I talked to said they weren’t finding much,” he said. “If there was snow on the ground and other factors, it would have helped.”
Luckily for the second and third season, cold and wet weather has moved into the area.
Though license sales for the fall cannot be accurately calculated until December, CPW has seen an upward trend in sales over the last few years.
“That doesn’t necessarily translate into harvest success because that is based on being able to get out there and get after them; but, when we do our counts in December, they are staying fairly stable,” Groves said.
Even with the upward trend in license sales, elk numbers in the Carbondale to Aspen region have remained stable with a slight uptick in numbers.
CPW conducts a yearly post-hunt population count via helicopter to track cow-to-calf ratios.
Groves also mentioned that hunters, scouting on public lands, are struggling to find elk that haven’t already moved onto private property. Because there have been higher numbers of people out and about in the U.S. Forest Service land over the last few years, elk have been moving into private property earlier or not entering public lands at all.
Tor Hayward, however, has had a 100% success rate at his Hayward Ranch hunting outfitter, located south of Silt on the eastern edge of the Grand Mesa. The ranch was able to harvest seven-for-seven bull elk within the first three days of the season opening.
He initially purchased a plot of 40 acres as a place to hunt on private land and has grown his operation over the last 20 years, this year having access to around 27,000 acres. His operation runs through the end of November and is booked until 2024.
“I’ve hunted my whole life on public ground, and there was just so much competition out there, so I wanted to spend a little money and buy some private ground,” he said. “I knew there are a lot of guys who like to hunt just like me, so I thought, ‘I’m going to bring them out here and let them have the success that I’ve been able to have.’”
A majority of the hunters who travel out to Hayward Ranch each year are return hunters from out-of-state. Members of the Hinson family from the Kansas City area have been hunting at the ranch since 2008 and look forward to it all year.
“After that first year, I was just hooked,” Jim Hinson said. “It’s really become an experience of not only being able to hunt with my son and my daughter, but everybody here at the ranch have really become great friends.”
He traveled from the plains to the Western Slope with his adult children Levi and Latessa; they each successfully harvested a bull by day three.
“To be in the outdoors here is a different world from what we experience on a daily basis,” Hinson said. “To get up in the morning and all you are seeing is stars, no city lights or anything else — that part is really phenomenal.”
Latessa, who was spending her third year hunting while pregnant, is looking forward to bringing her first son out to the ranch when he is old enough to hunt and start making memories with three generations of Hinsons.
“I’m counting down the years until my 9-year-old can come,” she said. “When he’s 12, he’ll get to tag along.”
Drought stricken west
Though much of the western United States has been experiencing years of drought, Hayward Ranch experienced a better than average rainfall year for 2022.
“All of our ponds were full, and, from a harvest statistic, that helps with horn growth and the maturity of the animals,” Hayward said. “I think that’s been a big player this year; it’s been a great rain year up here.”
The guests who travel to Hayward Ranch become like family and often continue to keep in touch throughout the year. They have little traditions like gathering together after a successful hunt, thanking God for their success, and, just for fun, taking a “kill shot” of alcohol to celebrate as family and friends.
“We’ve had killer success, and I love it. No pun intended.” Hayward said. “We live all year for this.”
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at email@example.com.
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