Eagle County hunters prepare for upcoming rifle season
EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado’s most popular hunting seasons start soon, and hunters may face both opportunities and challenges this year while trying to bag a bull or buck.
Hunting has actually been going on for the past several weeks, but those seasons have been open only to those using either black-powder rifles or bows. Those seasons, while increasingly popular, don’t draw nearly the numbers that come when the state opens to hunting on public lands with longer-range, high-powered rifles.
Hunters boost economy
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Those hunters may come to the woods, but they tend to leave a good bit of money behind. A 2008 study conducted for what’s now Colorado Parks and Wildlife determined hunters spent roughly $38.8 million in Eagle County alone, which added up to more than $67.4 million in “total impact” on the economy.
Yes, that pales in comparison to a good ski season. Still, that’s a lot of spending, the kind of spending that has a much greater effect on places such as Jackson County — that’s Walden — where more than 12 percent of all jobs depend on hunting and fishing.
Much of that spending comes from people who come from out of state. They pay much more for their licenses and tend to stay longer and spend more while they’re here. But good, healthy animal herds are necessary to keep those hunters coming.
Bill Andree, a local wildlife officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said herds seem to be in pretty good shape right now. The last winter wasn’t overly harsh, Andree said, but a wet September may scatter the animals around. Still, he said, the people he’s talked to have been seeing animals where they’ve been scouting.
For those who come from out of state, scouting isn’t really an option. Andree had some advice for those hunters, whether they come for the first season — starting Oct. 12 — or the more popular second season, which begins Oct. 19.
“Look for a spot an animal can be that a person can’t easily get to,” Andree said. That could include brushy areas on creek sides.
But, Andree said, many people who come to hunt don’t seem as focused on filling their freezers as they may once have been.
“A lot of people are as much on vacation as anything else,” he said.
Eagle resident Matt Solomon is an avid hunter. But Solomon’s store, Alpine Arms, keeps him in town more than he’d like this time of year. Still, Solomon said, getting out into the woods is a big part of why he hunts and why he gets out whenever he can, even if it’s just for an early-morning outing before work.
“It’s no different than kayaking or mountain biking — you’re not working and are out enjoying nature … and it’s in our back yard.”
Andree noted that most cell phones won’t work in much of the area’s backcountry. That can be a big attraction, he said.
With no cell service in most areas, Solomon said people coming to Eagle County to hunt need to be prepared. The every-year to-do list includes being ready for just about any kind of weather and being in good enough shape for a bit of hiking. Having a first-aid kit is a must, he said, and it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going.
Order ammo early
This year, being prepared also means having enough ammunition.
There’s been a persistent, nationwide ammo shortage for much of this year — the reasons for which require a separate story, so we’re not going to get into it here. Solomon said he can get ammo in most of the popular hunting calibers, but needs to order it.
“Locals know they need a week or so,” Solomon said.
Ray Long, another longtime local and the current president of the Eagle County chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, had more advice for those who may be fairly new to hunting.
“Be patient,” Long said. “(A good shot) can happen in a split-second, but it can take a whole season to get to it.”
Besides observing the numbers and health of local wildlife, Andree is also a sworn law enforcement officer. He can, and does, write citations to those violating the state’s hunting regulations.
Andree said hunters seem to be better educated than they once were. That means hunters tend to be a more safety-conscious group now, he said.
“Hunting accidents have gone down over the years,” Andree said. Still, people occasionally end up being shot by accident, often by mishaps while unloading rifles at the end of the day. That’s a good reason to have a first-aid kit in camp.
Safety is the biggest part of being prepared, Solomon said.
“It all takes practice,” Solomon said. “You need to be familiar with whatever techniques you’re using and know the basic shooting rules.”
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When a crowd of around 500 people showed up in Vail on Tuesday night to join a protest march in support of Black Lives Matter, the gathering plainly violated Eagle County’s current COVID-19 recommendations.