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Big game is big business in Eagle County

Special to the Daily
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Americans love wildlife and this time of year we love it medium rare.

It’s big game hunting season across the state, that special time of year when visitors flock to Western Colorado to generate their annual $1.5 billion in economic impact.

Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching creates 20,000 jobs around the state, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.



If you’re locals like Kip Gates and Adrian Brink and other outfitters, a good hunting season means you’ll be around for another year.

Gates launched River’s Bend Outfitting in Burns as a teenager, 38 years ago.



“I did it all on my own,” Gates said.

Every year Gates starts in September with archery season, and has already lived in the backcountry two and a half weeks. When rifle season starts in mid-October, he’ll spend a month and a half out there.

Most outfitters live like that, and there’s no other way they’d rather live, Gates said.



The Gates family homesteaded their ranch in 1885, as some of the area’s original settlers. They’ve been in the cattle business every since, but Gates said they might not have made it if not for the outfitting business. More than half of his income comes from hunting, he said.

“If it wasn’t for outfitting I don’t think we’d be able to live this lifestyle,” he said.

A.J. Brink Outfitters and Sweetwater Resort is several miles south of Dotsero and closes when hunting season ends in mid-November.

“It’s about 50 percent of our business, and it’s a significant amount of Colorado’s recreation income,” Brink said.

The economy has set Brink’s business back a little, but their phone is ringing with people asking if they can still go hunting.

“It’s largely last minute, but it’s been steady,” Brink said.

Like Gates, Brink started as a kid. She was riding pack trips in the Sweetwater area in 1969. She took over Sweetwater Resort 26 years ago and is on her fifth set of owners. She likes the current set. They’re taking the long view for upgrading the resort, she said, including doing things like increasing the lake’s water storage capacity.

“They’re not bulldozing first and asking questions later,” Brink said.

Skiing has a $2 billion economic impact annually, but much of that is concentrated in several Western Slope counties, according to the DOW report. Hunting and fishing pumps money into each of Colorado’s 64 counties. It’s 4 percent of Moffat County’s economy, about $26 million, the DOW found.

Hunting creates $800 million in direct revenue and $700 million in indirect revenue, according to this year’s study by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Fishing generates another $460 million in direct revenue.

And for those of us who just like to sit around and look at stuff, wildlife watching generated $560 million in direct revenue and $940 million overall.

“This report supports what the DOW has known for years. Wildlife-related activities are important contributors to Colorado’s economy and remain among the most popular pastimes for residents and visitors,” said Linda Sikorowski, who helped oversee gathering data for the DOW report.

The report was based on hunting and fishing license sales, DOW and other surveys, equipment sales, lodging information, and other direct and indirect expenditures associated with state wildlife-related activities. Also factored in was “re-spending” by people employed in wildlife-related jobs.

The DOW receives no state tax money. It’s funded through fishing and hunting licenses, by federal funds generated by an excise tax on the manufacture of arms, ammunition, fishing tackle and other sporting equipment, by donations to the Nongame Fund, and by federal endangered species funds.

For Gates and River’s Bend Outfitting, a guided hunt runs five hunting days. They pack in the day before and out the day after.

Like most guides, Gates bugles bulls into range. What the client does after that is up to them.

Hunters try to make the same noise a bull does, then make a cow elk noise.

The object is to make the bull elk think there’s a girl elk nearby with another guy elk around. That makes the bull elk mad, and he heads toward the noise determined to do something about it.

The Division of Wildlife manages Colorado’s wildlife like the renewable resource it is, and does a good job, Brink said.

“Most of the public doesn’t know where the money goes when they buy hunting and fishing licenses,” Brink said. “They should know that it’s not wasted.”

Much of it pays for habitat improvements. Near Sweetwater Resort, for example, the DOW seeded the south-facing slopes to create better winter range for elk and deer.


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