For hunters, it’s game time
For businesses, it’s the season to cash in on visitors to area
Sam Green/Cortez Journal
Colorado’s second hunting season began Saturday, but determining just how many hunters from Colorado and around nation will descend on Southwest Colorado, which has some of the largest elk herds anywhere in the country, is a bit elusive.
The current season, permitting rifle hunting of elk and deer, runs through Sunday, Oct. 27. The first season, for elk only, ended Wednesday, Oct. 16. Hunters must have bought their licenses before the season started. The fee at Big R in Cortez for the second season was $56 for a Colorado resident and $586 for a nonresident.
Additional combined deer-elk seasons will run Nov. 2-10 and Nov. 13-17.
Friday during a hunter sight-in at Four Corners Rifle and Pistol Club shooting range east of Cortez, Earl Moore speculated that the fourth year of bad economy was depressing the numbers of out-of-staters, hunters who pay a premium for their licenses.
“Most who come to hunt here are blue-collar guys,” Moore said. “They band together and put something together as affordably as possible. Now, the ones where money is no object, yeah, they’re still here. We just had a group from Brazil. Those guys are always going to show up.”
At Big R in Cortez, however, Sara Gardner, head of the sporting goods department, thought the number of out-of-state hunters she was seeing was fairly strong — although she cautioned she had just returned to the area. She said, after two years in Wyoming, she couldn’t offer a comparison to the number of hunters in Southwest Colorado the past two years.
Her biggest problem was keeping ammunition stocked. Cortez, like the rest of the country, was having difficulty keeping up with demand, a trend that began several years ago as talk of more restrictive gun-control laws grew across the country.
The Colorado General Assembly and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a host of bills that tightened gun laws in Colorado during its 2013 session. The most controversial laws require background checks for all private-party gun sales and limits ammunition magazines to no more than 15 rounds. The passage of the laws had drawn some calls for a boycott of hunting in Colorado by gun-rights supporters.
Moore didn’t think calls by gun-rights supporters to boycott Colorado in the wake of the passage of more restrictive gun laws played a role in keeping out-of-state hunters away.
“People who are going to go through all the trouble to drive across the country to Colorado to hunt for elk, they might talk about (boycotting), but they won’t actually do it,” he said. “I think it’s just idle conversation that no one acts on.”
Hunting season began with a layer of white in the high country. The autumn snow could help hunters track animals, and the cold weather generally brings elk and deer to lower, more-accessible territory.
And however many animal hides hunters rack up in the coming weeks, their pursuits promise great bounty for businesses in Southwest Colorado.
A 2008 Colorado Division of Wildlife report (the division has since morphed into Parks and Wildlife) found that, excluding purchases on hunting and fishing licenses, hunters and anglers spent about $1 billion on trip expenses and sporting equipment in Colorado in 2007.
Indeed, in 2007, hunting accounted for about 221 jobs in Montezuma County alone, and hunters and fishermen dropped about $20.8 million in the county.
Because of their generosity, hunters have become the hunted: Stores throughout the Southwest Colorado have hoisted placards telling visitors “We Ship Meat.”
In advertisements, Smitty’s Discount Liquor of Cortez promotes its deals on Bud Light and peppermint schnapps between pictures of rifles. Four States Tire and Services of Durango boasts that it is “your hunting vehicle headquarters.” Coldwell Banker Heritage House Realtors runs glossy, full-page ads spotlighting various mountain estates on top of a photograph of an elk, as though the three-bed, three-bath, $1.2 million dream house came with prey, too.
Brian Hessling, manager of Gardenswartz Sporting Goods in Durango, said people had been in the shop buying hunting-related accessories, “things like game bags, stove fuel, perhaps some blaze-orange clothing that they’re required to wear, hats and vests, things like that – it’s a fairly diverse list of merchandise.”
Hessling said hunting goods’ prices ranged widely, too.
Popular items like emergency blankets, compasses and containers of propane gas might set the budding hunter back $50, whereas “we just had one hunter shopping for optics, and the transaction today totaled $3,000 on scopes,” he said.
He said $3,000 for scopes was on the high end.
“It was a German-made spotting scope, Swarovski. I’m sure the customer was looking at it like a lifetime purchase. An object like that will be passed down for generations if it’s cared for,” he said.