A shot in the woods
EAGLE COUNTY – Some people enjoying the fall colors might not expect to hear the sound of gunfire as they’re hiking or biking through Eagle County’s forests and meadows.But, hunting season is upon us and there are some precautions trail users should take to prepare themselves to share the area with hunters.”People are somewhat concerned when they come in,” said Corey Myers, information assistant at the Holy Cross Ranger District Office. “The main question is, ‘Is it safe for us to go hiking?’ My response is simply, as long as you’re wearing bright colors and staying on the trails, you’re pretty safe.”Last weekend, Iowa residents Margaret and Garret Ager were passing through Minturn on their way to Buena Vista and stopped for a stroll on Meadow Mountain with their Jack Russell terrier, Gosh. Although Gosh in no way resembles a deer or elk, he is not savvy to trail use protocol during hunting season and was sniffing freely around the aspens unleashed. The Agers, as it turned out, were also unaware of the season.”lt would make me pretty nervous to think we were just walking along and a bullet could go whizzing by,” said Margaret, upon being told that rifle season is approaching. “It doesn’t take a very big slip to have a big accident when there’s guns involved.”
Safety firstThe Ranger District is distributing flyers and has posted signs on popular trailheads, warning trail users of hunting season and advising them to follow four main guidelines: wear bright colors, keep dogs leashed at all times, stay on marked trails and stay away from deer and elk.”Hunters are not allowed to fire over trails,” Myers said. “So, if people are on marked trails, they’re a lot safer.”Archery season in Eagle County ended Sept. 28 and muzzle-loading is between seasons. Rifle season, which historically has drawn the largest amount of hunters to the area, begins Saturday in Eagle County.
Occasionally, trail users feel intimidated by hunters and don’t like the idea of sharing the woods with them. The U.S. Forest Service, however, states that hunters have just as much right to be on the land as anyone else.”Hunting is a big part of our economy, especially on the Western Slope,” said Don Dressler, trails supervisor at the Holy Cross office. “Most people are aware that it’s part of our culture. It’s something they need to accept. Whether they agree with it or not, it is a personal choice. It’s also an important means of controlling wildlife populations.”Sharing the wildernessCertainly, not everybody agrees. The Holy Cross office recently heard from a grouse hunter who was out on Grouse Mountain when he was berated by a group of recreationists for walking up the trail with his gun.
“This guy was on the trail with his dog and a shotgun, and he ran into people who gave him grief,” Myers said. “They’re reaction was basically, ‘What the hell are you doing coming up the trail with a gun?’ Hunters have as much of a right to be here as hikers and bikers do. The big season in this area is rifle season. Hunters are going to be dispersed, literally, throughout the area. You’ll see them on the side of the highways. You’ll see them everywhere.”Piney River is a popular area for rifle hunters. Other popular areas include Grouse Lake, Missouri Lakes, Fall Creek and Camp Hale. The first period of rifle season runs from Oct. 9-13, the second will be Oct. 16-24, the third Oct. 30-Nov. 5 and the final stretch is Nov. 6-10.”It’s not usually too big of a deal,” Myers said. “The hiking season’s usually really slowed down by then and the leaves are about done.”Staff at the Holy Cross Ranger District could not recall any serious conflicts or incidents between hunters and trail users in recent history, but they said the most realistic danger is unleashed dogs spooking horses, since many hunters travel on horseback.”Most of these guys, the times of day they hunt are when the wildlife is most active. It’s dawn and dusk,” Dressler said. “Most of your recreational use is not during those hours. It’s pretty rare to have a conflict. Most of the complaints I hear about are from hunters that leave messy camps or illegal camps. There’s always a percentage of people that break the rules. The first step in safety is making people aware that it’s hunting season. Then, people are a little more alert.”Shauna Farnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado
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