It’s that time of year when the aspens are starting to turn gold, football is back on TV and hikers might want to wear neon orange when they’re out walking in the woods.
Now is not the best time to prance through the forest wearing a moose antler hat, said Mike Porras, regional spokesman with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Hunting is one of the safest outdoor sports, and hunters are required to take an education course that stresses safety before they buy a license in Colorado, he said. Still, wearing more visible clothing during the season isn’t a bad idea.
Archery season began Saturday, Aug. 30, for deer and elk and will expand on Saturday, Sept. 6, to include moose until the bow hunting season ends Sept. 28. The small game and waterfowl seasons opened Monday, Sept. 1, around the state as well, and muzzle-loading rifle season will run from Sept. 13 through Sept. 21.
Every hunting season has specific legal requirements, regulations and limits for different animal species and geographic areas, Porras said.
In Colorado, the overall trend in the number of hunters has been downward in recent years, he said. The average hunter is a man in his 50s or 60s, and fewer young people are following in the hunting tradition of their parents.
At the same time, the number of people interested in hunting has been going up nationally, and more young people are discovering archery thanks to the popularity of “The Hunger Games” movies in the last couple years, he said. “Archery is cool again.”
People are picking up hunting for some of the same reasons others who may not have grown up around agriculture become farmers or gardeners. They might not agree with industrial meat production and want to provide organic meat for their families in a way they feel is more ethical.
Patrick Hoppe, 46, of Summit Cove, was practicing with his compound bow at the Summit County archery range in Dillon Thursday and said he enjoys hunting because of the way it allows him to put food on the table for himself, his wife and their three young sons.
“It’s easy to eat beef or chicken or something like that because someone else kills it, but when you actually have to look that thing in the eye and pull the trigger, it makes you think twice about it,” said Hoppe, a landscape architect who is hoping to harvest an elk with a friend on a local bow hunt this weekend.
Hoppe also enjoys fly-fishing, biking and being outside in the fall. The former Keystone Resort ski patroller said he picked up bow hunting two years ago because it’s quieter and more of a challenge than rifle hunting, which he grew up doing in Minnesota with his dad and uncles.
“It’s kinda in your blood. It’s kinda like fishing,” said Glenn Morse, owner of Gore Range Outfitters in Breckenridge.
Gore Range Outfitters has been guiding trips out of Breckenridge for the last 25 years, and Morse bought the business in 2005.
“Ten years ago they told me I wasn’t going to make a dime doing this,” Morse said. “I don’t think people realize how much money these hunters spend in our county.”
On quiet horses, Morse, 45, guides visitors to spots that don’t conflict with where local hunters go, saves them years of scouting and helps them pack out their kill.
Most of his clients are older men, though he has guided kids, high-schoolers and even a few celebrities, including guitarist Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band. He said he has 45 hunters booked for big game trips this season.
Hunting brings in millions in Colorado, where public lands abound and the largest elk herds in North America, if not the world, roam, especially in the northwest part of the state.
An independent consulting group found that hunting and fishing in 2007 brought $29.7 million in direct spending to Summit County and direct and secondary spending contributed to about 700 jobs.
The sport’s economic impact is vital to the operations of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, a state agency that doesn’t receive any money from the state.
Sales from hunting and fishing licenses provide the majority of the agency’s budget, and the rest comes from state park fees, donations, grants and a portion of taxes from the sale of hunting and fishing gear.
Without hunting, which is used as a wildlife management tool, the agency under its current structure wouldn’t have enough money to manage, research and protect the state’s wildlife.
Some people will probably always be philosophically opposed to hunting with opinions as strong as their political or religious views, Porras said.
They don’t have to hunt, he said, but they should know how important hunting is for maintaining wildlife populations throughout Colorado and realize that hunters are generally responsible, respectful people, who are passionate about conservation and knowledgeable about the biology and ecology of the animals they hunt.
In October, the different rifle hunting seasons will start, and like a football player warming up before a game, Morse said he was excited and hopes hunters stay safe and watch out for and help one another.
This story has been updated to reflect a reporting error correction: According to a 2008 study done by BBC Research and Consulting, the economic impact of direct spending from hunting and fishing in Summit County in 2007 amounted to $29.7 million.
“It’s easy to eat beef or chicken or something like that because someone else kills it, but when you actually have to look that thing in the eye and pull the trigger, it makes you think twice about it.”