Rifle season opens today

Safety stressed as hunters descend on Routt County

The blaze orange is back.
Lincoln Avenue was alive with camouflage coats, bright orange caps and horse trailers Friday afternoon as hunters from across the country descended on Northwest Colorado to try their luck with the largest elk herd in the nation.

The first season of rifle hunting opens today, and Northwest Colorado is a popular destination for good reason. Three area herds have grown by an estimated 14,000 head since 2000, and now stand at a combined 88,000 animals, nearly one-third of the state's total elk population, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

In order to help control that population, the DOW approved issuing a record 146,000 limited antlerless and either-sex elk licenses this fall, up 10,000 from last year. The price for a nonresident bull tag is $480, while cow tags are about half the price at $250. Hunters who have not yet purchased a first-season license can do so at the Colorado Division of Wildlife/U.S. Forest Service offices at 925 Weiss Drive. The office is the only place licenses can be purchased for the remainder of the first season, which ends Wednesday.

With the large number of hunters in town added to people who continue to use public lands for other forms of recreation, the DOW and Routt County Sheriff's Office are reminding everyone to use an extra measure of caution. A fatal hunting accident Sept. 20 in South Routt County, in which one person accidentally shot a hunting companion, brings the need for safety into sharp focus.

"Our focus is really to remind people of the need for safety," said DOW Area Wildlife Manager Susan Werner. "If you see an animal, look at the animal and beyond your target before you fire."

For nonhunters, safety means investing in an inexpensive blaze-orange vest and continuing to use trails as normal, Werner said. Game avoid busy trails, so hunters generally do, too.

To stay on the right side of the law, hunters also should remember not to mix alcohol and firearms, to respect private property and to respect hunting and vehicle-use regulations on public lands. Hunters who witness a violation are encouraged to call the Routt County Sheriff's Office at 879-1090 or Operation Game Thief at 1-800-332-4155, Werner said.

Hunters who are interested in having their animals checked for chronic wasting disease can take advantage of a head drop-off at the DOW office. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The cost is $15 per animal, and results are usually available in 10 to 14 days, Werner said.

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