Get Wild: share the wilderness with hunters

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A hunter moves through the San Juan National Forest in September 2020.
Evan Moore / Courtesy photo

Hunters are frequent users of the wilderness at this time of year. I’m no hunter, but I have found my hunting friends and family to be some of the most knowledgeable, knowledgeable, and secure backcountry travelers I have ever known.

But let’s face it, during this time of year the dynamics for non-hunting backcountry travelers change as the hunting seasons begin. This occurred to me on a recent overnight backpacking trip in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. As we were setting up camp near a meadow, my daughter said, “I just saw a guy over there in the trees walking around in a camo.

“Oh! There are probably bow hunters camping out there,” I explained. Sure enough, we found a camp of guys from Wisconsin who have been hunting the Gore Range Trail with their bows for 20 years. had a pleasant conversation and they greeted us at the nearby camp.



Our meeting was the motivation to write this column: What would be useful for non-hunters traveling in the wilderness to know the hunters they might meet?

I called an expert for some thoughts. My brother, Scot Elder, is a recently retired Colorado Parks and Wildlife Warden with extensive experience as a hunter and as a manager of our state’s backcountry hunting grounds. The tips below are taken from this conversation.



While it’s understandable that those unfamiliar with hunting feel uncomfortable with the safety of hunting, hunting is actually a relatively safe activity when practiced responsibly. Parks and Wildlife reports that fatal and non-fatal incidents are at an all time high. Incidents have declined significantly since the implementation of Colorado’s stringent hunter safety education requirements, first enacted in 1970.

However, accidents do happen. Here are some tips for non-hunters to help keep everyone safe.

Know your seasons

From September 1 to November 28, Colorado has six hunting seasons. In the Summit County area, the relevant seasons are archery and muzzleloading, which mostly occur throughout September. Because both of these hunting methods are at close range, these are the safest times for backcountry travel.

Four rifle seasons begin October 1 and end in November.

Come out

Wear orange or another easily visible color, especially once the muzzleloading and rifle seasons begin. Muzzleloading season is relatively safe, as the range of a muzzle loader is less than 200 meters and accidental shots are rare. Scot Elder always recommends wearing high visibility colors, especially Hunter’s Orange, throughout rifle seasons.

Learn from hunters

Just be aware and engage with the hunters when you encounter them. I learned so much from talking to archery hunters about elk behavior, their approach to hunting, the surrounding terrain, and them as people. You can learn a lot by talking to the hunters, and they will be more aware of your presence.

Share the wilderness

Hunting is permitted in our local federal wilderness areas, as regulated by the state through Parks and Wildlife. Based on the wildlife populations in a particular area, Parks and Wildlife issues a limited number of tags for different animals, including bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and mountain goats. Hunters can only search for the type and sex of animal they are tagged with.

Many hunters and fishermen are strong advocates for the preservation of wilderness and the hinterland. Hunters are also a primary source of income – through license fees and other economic activities – for the management of natural resources. For more information, Parks and Wildlife Website at CPW.state.co.us is a good resource, and you might also be interested in the Hinterland hunters and fishermen site at BackcountryHunters.org.

Steve Elder


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