A local’s guide to hunting in the Vail Valley | SummitDaily.com

A local’s guide to hunting in the Vail Valley

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

The mountains surrounding the Eagle River Valley are in the midst of showing off their fall colors — the aspens glowing with shades of gold, and the cottonwoods adding their burnt orange to the mix. However, if you're hiking into the colors, you may get a glimpse of a different shade of orange — one much brighter than what you'll find on the trees.

The big-game hunting season is currently under way: archery and muzzleloader seasons finished in September, and the rifle seasons for elk, moose and deer have started forOctober. For those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt, fall is not only a time to enjoy the outdoors, but also a time to fill the freezer with elk, deer and moose.

That is, if you've got game.

Safety first

Before you set off into the wilderness on a hunt, there are some things to remember to have a safe and, hopefully, successful experience. To begin with, it's necessary for a hunter to take and pass a hunter-education course before he or she can purchase a license.

"This requirement is why hunting is one of the safest of all outdoor activities today," said Mike Porras, the public information officer for the Northwest Region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "That said, hunters should keep in mind that safety in the field is the priority. Practice safe firearm handling, including always being 100-percent sure of the target before shooting, and remember the lessons learned during hunter-education class."

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Another important element is to be prepared — not just with warm clothing and supplies. He encouraged hunters to always pack a first-aid kit for outdoor emergencies: tarp, a good knife, parachute cord and space blankets to make a shelter; fire-starting equipment and water-purifying materials; a reflective device to signal potential rescuers if you get lost; and a fully-charged cell phone (for the areas that get service). Additionally, always hunt with a buddy, and, after you make a plan and tell someone at home, stick to it.

Where to go

Once everything is packed and ready to go, the next big decision is where to go. Dan Bryant, an Avon resident and owner of Map the Xperience, has been hunting in the central Rockies for 35 years.

He said that his success tends to be on par with the averages for elk and deer: About 40 percent of hunters will harvest a deer on average; approximately 25 percent of hunters will get an elk. Though he declined to share his secret spots, he said that he tends to hunt areas that are close by.

"A lot of local hunters head to Wolcott and north up to State Bridge," he said. "Vail Pass is a popular area, as is Two Elk Creek and Homestake — that's another favorite. There are some really good local areas, with high elk concentrations. I prefer to hunt more backcountry, in High Country areas where it takes a couple of hours to hike into."

Though you can find deer and elk in some of the same areas, he said he prefers to stay up-valley to hunt for a somewhat surprising reason.

"I think the deer and elk taste better when they don't have a sage flavor to them," he said. "The animals taste like what they're eating."

Reaping the reward

According to a survey conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Virginia, gathering meat is the single most important reason for hunting among adult Americans (about 35 percent of respondents). This reason has surpassed hunting for sport, which was formerly the main reason that people took to the woods during the season. One motivation is the movement to eat food produced locally, that a consumer personally harvested, as opposed to meat processed in a slaughterhouse.

"I love the taste, and it's healthier than traditional," Bryant said. "The health factor is huge, especially if you go to a store and you're buying beef that has had steroids or whatever else they put in the meat. That's one reason we really like deer and elk — it has no additives, so to speak."

While there are many preparations for wild game, sometimes the simpler ones are the best. Grouse Mountain Grill chef David Gutowski offers several game options on the menu, including bison, elk, duck and rabbit. However, the elk is one of the standouts and is fairly easy to replicate at home.

"With the nicer cuts, like the short loin, we don't do much to it; it's a great piece of meat," he said. "Although it's super lean, it has a ton of flavor. The only real concern is overcooking it. Leave it rare or mid-rare, and it's spectacular."

At Grouse Mountain Grill, he marinates elk in shallots, garlic, olive oil, thyme and rosemary. He coats the meat in the rub and then lets it marinate overnight.

"The next day, we don't scrape that off (the rub)," he said, "and we season with salt and pepper and throw it on the grill like that. It's awesome."

As for side dishes or accompaniments, he echoed what Bryant mentioned.

"I feel like with any game, stuff that they eat tends to go well with it," he said. "Juniper berries, stuff like that. We have served our elk with pickled blackberries before; chestnuts go really well with it, too."

On the hunt

Even with foreknowledge of the "best" spots and impeccable strategy, hunting is still a game of chance — the elk, deer and moose are on their own schedules and won't necessarily adhere to your plans. Porras reminded hunters that, in some cases, it can take three or four years of being in the field before a hunter has a successful trip.

"However, just having the ability to go big-game hunting in one of the more beautiful states in the country is a success in and of itself," Porras said. "Most hunters know that spending time with friends and family in the outdoors creates special memories that will last a lifetime — with or without successfully filling your tag."

Hunter information

To learn about licenses; applications and preference points; field information and reference materials; and the various wild game that can be harvested in the state of Colorado, visit cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/pages/hunt.aspx.

Leave it to the experts

For those who are into immediate gratification (order, then enjoy), the Vail area is home to several restaurants that specialize in wild game. Please note that all of the game served in restaurants is commercially sourced.

Game Creek Restaurant, Vail. Open in the winter. Go here for: elk.

• The Antler Room at Pepi’s, Vail. Open in the winter. Go here for: elk, caribou, fallow deer, duck, wild Russian boar, quail.

• Grouse Mountain Grill, Beaver Creek. Go here for: bison, elk, duck, rabbit.

• Splendido at the Chateau, Beaver Creek. Go here for: duck, elk.

• Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek. Go here for: rabbit, venison.

• Buffalo’s at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch. Go here for: bison.

• The Gashouse, Edwards. Go here for: quail, buffalo, wild boar, elk, venison, duck and jackalope (yes, it’s on the menu).

Recipes

David Gutowski, executive chef at Grouse Mountain Grill, provided these recipes to prepare your wild game.

Chestnut puree

1 pound chestnuts

1 tablespoon shallots (sliced)

½ tablespoon garlic (minced)

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup sherry

2 cups chicken stock

½ cup cream

Salt, pepper and sugar to taste

Sweat shallots and garlic in 1 tablespoon butter. Add chestnuts, and sauté gently. Deglaze with sherry, and reduce by half. Add stock and cream, and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Simmer until chestnuts are tender. Puree in a blender until smooth, add remaining butter, and adjust consistency with hot stock.

Coffee rub

¼ cup ground coffee

¼ cup ancho chili powder

¼ cup brown Sugar

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon cumin

Combine all ingredients and rub on meat prior to grilling.

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