Fall is a time for harvest, the changing of the leaves, and another important season: hunting. Hunting is a popular sport in Colorado, and is generally is very safe. However, hunters need to make sure they are prepared and always follow safe practices to have the most successful hunting season that they can.
“Hunting is safe and getting safer all the time in Colorado,” said Mark Cousins, hunter education coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Almost all hunting incidents could have been avoided if the hunter had exercised a little more care, Cousins explained. “With hunting, one moment of carelessness can mean a lifetime of consequences,” he said.
Finding success out in the field starts at home. Long before the hunting season starts, hunters should head to the shooting range for practice. “Get out to a range and practice and be familiar with the guns you’ll be using,” Cousins said. “Practice makes for a much safer and enjoyable hunt.”
Start preparing before you go into the field. Get your body in shape and be ready to carry heavy loads over rough terrain. There is a lot of hunting that is done in the mountains in Colorado, and altitude sickness can be a problem.
Take time to acclimate and do not move quickly above 8,000 feet. Symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, headache and loss of appetite. To avoid altitude sickness get in shape, limit alcohol consumption, acclimate for a few days before the start of the season and drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is key factor in reducing your chances of getting altitude sickness.
Hunters also need to prepare for the worst. “When you head out into the woods, be prepared: for cold, rain or snow, to tend an injury or to stay the night in the woods. It’s not as difficult as it sounds,” said Chris Parmeter, District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Survival experts recommend that you never go into a wilderness area alone. Unavoidable accidents do happen. Learn how to use a compass, take a map of the area and orient yourself before leaving camp. Explain to your hunting partners where you’ll be going and when you plan to return.
A hunt plan is a vital part of staying safe. Scout the area before you hunt, so you know the terrain. Let others outside of the camp know where you will be, so they can go looking for you in the case that you become lost.
Always carry a survival kit and know how to use it. Such a kit should include a knife, waterproof matches, fire starter, compass, reflective survival blanket, high-energy food, water purification tablets, first aid kit, whistle and unbreakable signal mirror.
Dress in layers and take extras with you. Put on layers before you become chilled and take off a layer before you become damp with perspiration. Staying warm is a process of staying dry. Do not dress in cotton – it becomes wet easily and is difficult to dry. Use wool, wool blends or synthetic clothing that wicks moisture away from skin.
When getting ready to shoot an animal, a hunter must be aware of his target and what is beyond the target. Hunters should not shoot towards houses or roadways because a missed shot could hurt someone else.
Remember, shot placement can also affect meat quality. Try for a quick kill with a shot that will produce minimal meat damage. The best target is the heart/lungs area just behind the front quarter. A shot to that area will drop an animal quickly. Avoid shooting an animal in the gut or hindquarters, and don’t try for head shots.
Also, be aware of where the animal might fall. Don’t shoot an animal in an area where you will not be able to retrieve it. Make sure you are capable of retrieving all the meat before it spoils, before it attracts predators and before you become exhausted.
You also need to make sure you bring the proper tools. This includes a high quality knife, sharpening stone, bone saw, tarp, game bags, frame pack, paper towels, rope and rubber gloves.
Successfully field dressing an animal is vital to meat quality as well, and if you do not know how to do this, take someone along who does or study how to do it before you hunt. That means removing the guts, heart, lungs, liver, esophagus and other internal organs.
After removing all the entrails, roll the animal over to drain the body cavity, then use a clean rag to wipe off excess blood, bone chips, dirt, partially digested food particles and other foreign matter.
Only leave the hide on long enough to keep the meat clean while dragging it on the ground or transporting it over dusty roads in the back of an open pickup.
Next, cool the meat as quickly as possible. Skin the animal as soon as you reach camp. Time is critical, even in cool weather. Without air circulating around the carcass, the meat can sour quickly. Bacterial growth begins at any temperature over 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Maggots can hatch within eight hours if the carcass is exposed to flies and other winged insects.
It is good to remember that aging does not work on game meat. Unlike a beef cow that has fat that protects the meat from rotting, game meat is 90-95 percent lean and instead of aging will simply rot.
Wasting of game meat is not only unethical, it’s also illegal. It is important to know the rules and regulations, so that you don’t break laws and risk losing your hunting license, as well as paying a fine.
Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for the San Luis Valley, explained that hunters need to set aside some time to review the Colorado Big Game Brochure. The brochure explains many of the common violations and how to avoid them.
“Hunters must know their responsibilities when they get into the field,” Basagoitia said. “Wildlife laws are written to protect a valuable resource and for safety.”
There are several laws that are important to abide to. The first is to wear blaze orange. Colorado requires that hunters wear at least 500 inches of daylight fluorescent orange, plus a head coving of the same color.
It is also illegal to carry a loaded weapon in or on vehicles, including ATVs. Firearms must not be discharged less than 50 feet off of a state or county road, and you must be off the road on BLM or forest service roads.
Another important rule to remember is to be able to provide evidence of sex of the animal. This includes the head, ovum or scrotum. Carcasses must be tagged as soon as possible after being harvested, and the license should be voided.
Also, any hunter born after 1948 must also have a hunter education card with him at all times.
Hunting in Colorado can be a fun, challenging experience. If proper practices, including preparation, communication and harvesting are followed, hunting can be a rewarding trip for any person involved. ❖