Tips for Hunters
Welcome to the Gunnison Country and southwest Colorado. You've chosen one of the most beautiful parts of Colorado for your hunt. With an abundance of game and all of the necessary facilities, we hope you find this area able to offer you a rewarding experience. To help with that goal, we've compiled some information to point you in the right direction and help you avoid some of the common problems hunters face.
Where to Hunt
It is important to find and get to lands that are legal to hunt. In general, all federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service, and Curecanti Recreation Area, in addition to some state lands, are open to hunting.
Private land is open only if you have the permission of the land owner. Private land does not have to be posted with "NO HUNTING" signs to be off limits. If you don't have permission to hunt, you are trespassing and can be prosecuted.
The best way to find out which land is which is to stop by the BLM/Forest Service office in Gunnison for a "Gunnison Public Lands Map." This map portrays land status and existing facilities as well as travel regulations. Once you've decided where to go, you have to get there. It's important to understand that the issue of private property and trespassing sometimes applies to roads. If you must cross private land to get to public lands, you must get permission. This is usually not the case on well maintained county roads, but does apply to many of the dirt roads and two-tracks that crisscross this country. If you are in doubt about your access route, stop by the BLM/FS office for information.
Whether you're on public or private land, common sense must dictate what roads and tracks are feasible for travel. Steep, deeply rutted tracks result from people driving where they shouldn't or in unsuitable conditions. Most hunters never see the damage that spinning tires can do to vegetation. The result is an ugly gully where a road used to be. With very little money available for road maintenance, it may never be fixed. Please respect any road closure you encounter. This is usually done to prevent resource damage.
Make sure to close any gates you open. The gates keep livestock where they should be. Finally, ask yourself, "Am I going to be able to get out on this road if rain or snow comes in unexpectedly?" If the answer is no, you may want to choose another route or park your vehicle where the good road ends.
There has been a lot of abuse by All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) users who create many new roads and scare game away from other hunters. Many hunters are calling for more restrictions on ATV use. Show some courtesy to your fellow hunters - leave the ATVs in camp and walk to your hunting spots. Use your ATV to haul game out only during those times of the day when you won't be bothering other hunters, or scaring the game away.
Running a Good Camp
Many hunters camp on public lands or the National Forests. This can range from parking a motor home in a campground to backpacking or horsepacking deep into a wilderness area. Wherever you go, your camp will cause an impact to the land. Given the number of people that use the public lands and National Forests, the cumulative effect of that use can be devastating. We are trying to educate public land users about techniques that will reduce the impacts of their camps. These Leave No Trace camping techniques aren't difficult or expensive to practice and can significantly reduce the marks we leave on the land. Our goal in this is to leave our camps looking as natural as we can.
Fires and Wood
Many popular camping spots suffer from too many fire scars and too little firewood. Try to do your cooking over a camp stove whenever possible. It is quicker, cleaner, easier, and leaves no trace. If you must build a fire, keep it small. Whenever possible use existing fire rings rather than starting new ones. The heat of a fire sterilizes the soil beneath it making plant regrowth difficult. If firewood is scarce don't cut live trees, they do not burn. It is better to keep your eye out for down and dead wood as you drive into your campsite or while you are hunting. Take a few minutes and drive to where wood is available, load up a few days¹ supply and bring it back to camp. Similarly, don't denude campsites by cutting live trees for tent poles, hanging racks, camp furniture, etc. Use down and dead wood only. Don't leave an untended fire going in camp or you may not have a camp or a forest when you return.
Trash and Sanitation
Everyone should know the first rule of using public lands - "If you pack it, in you can pack it out." Unfortunately, not everyone remembers this when it is time to clean up and leave. You can burn any trash in camp that will be completely consumed. This does not include foil, tin, aluminum cans, or glass - these items melt, but do not disappear. Do not bury your non-burnable garbage. It is quickly dug up by bears and other critters. To prevent water contamination, make sure latrines are at least 150 feet from any water. In a permanent camp dig a latrine and fill it in completely before you leave. In a temporary camp or while you're hunting, scrape out a little cat hole to bury your waste. Don't use soap in a stream or lake. Take water from the source and do your washing well away from it, then spread your wastewater out over absorbent ground.
If you use stock for packing or riding, you must be very careful to minimize their impact. A string of horses can turn a wet trail into a quagmire and a horse tied to a tree can soon kill the tree and all of the vegetation around it. Try to avoid wet or boggy areas with your stock. Rather than tying them to trees consider hobbling, picketing, or high lining. If these methods start impacting or over using the vegetation in an area, move the stock to another spot to spread use around. If you haul feed you must use certified weed free hay (indicated by the distinctive blue and orange twine) or processed pellets to prevent the spread of invasive weeds.
Most of us go through Hunter Safety Courses to earn our hunting licenses. It is important to carry that knowledge into the field with us. State law demands that firearm hunters must wear 500 inches of solid hunter orange (camouflage orange is not acceptable. Exercise care in handling your firearms in the field, particularly if you are climbing over fences or downed logs. Above all be sure of your target. Wait for your target to show itself and be sure it is a legal deer or elk and not a cow, horse, or another hunter. Be sure to consider what will happen if your shot misses. High powered rounds can travel over a mile and you need to be sure there are no hunters, houses, or highways within the possible impact zone.
Safety also involves other factors. You need to carry a map to know where you are going and how to get back. Always make sure someone knows where you are going each day so a search can be started if you don't return. Make sure you carry plenty of clothing for all types of weather and extra food and water in case you are stranded. Weather is quite variable in the mountains and a day that starts out warm and sunny may end up dumping a foot of snow by dark. Be alert for any changes in the weather and be prepared for the worst. Finally, unless you are in excellent physical condition, take it easy. The high altitude and steep terrain combine to make physical exertion particularly stressing. Heart attack is the most common cause of death in Colorado's hunters. Also learn the signs of hypothermia (the lowering of the body's core temperature) and watch yourself and your partners for signs of this lethal condition.
The clear, clean water running in our streams is not always pure. Many areas are contaminated with an intestinal parasite called Giardia. It is best to carry enough water from town for your hunt. If you must drink stream or lake water make sure it is boiled for 8 to 10 minutes or filtered with a good quality water filter.
After the Harvest
It's a shame to see a hunter put the time and effort into filling his tag only to ruin the meat through improper care. In Colorado it is against the law to waste game meat. Here are some tips to avoid this problem. First, it is important to field dress your animal as quickly as possible. Bacteria begins to grow immediately and can spoil meat within hours, especially if there has been a puncture of the stomach or intestines. It is also a good idea to remove the skin as soon as it is field dressed. The skin, if left on, holds a body heat that can encourage bacterial growth and ruin meat. Hang the carcass in a cool shady spot and cover with cheesecloth or a game bag to keep the flies and birds off. Skinning, quartering, and properly packing your game will result in better eating meat. Be aware of the image you present to the general public when you transport your game. Conspicuously displayed carcasses may impress other hunters but can be extremely offensive to others.
Each year thousands of hunters enjoy the beauty of Colorado. By paying attention to a few simple guidelines you can help make this a positive experience not only for yourself but for the local population and public lands we all use and enjoy. Be a responsible hunter and the hunting resource will continue to provide enjoyment for generations to come.