Local outfitters, DOW team up for hunter outreach programs

RBC — Hunting and fishing recreation has a long and robust history in western Colorado. The Meeker and Craig areas are well known for just such recreation with the area’s abundant public and private fishing waters and immense big game herds.
Local outfitters play a major part in this recreation by providing guiding and packing services to thousands of visitors to the area each year. In spite of the fact that many of these outfitters have a full schedule starting with fishing drop camps in the early summer and often not ending until after the late December cow elk seasons, they still made time to help the local Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) office with some recent youth and women’s outreach efforts.
Through the DOW sponsored Hunter Outreach Program, youth ranging from 12- to 17- years old submit applications for the opportunity to participate in a guided big game hunt. The fundamental goal of the program is to expose these new hunters to a quality experience and give them some basic skills so they will continue with the sport in future years. The goal is accomplished with the help of private landowners and volunteer guides and camp assistants.
The Massey family, owners and operators of Northwest Colorado Ranching for Wildlife, and Colowyo Coal Company are certainly no strangers to helping out with just such efforts. Since 1997, the Masseys and their expert guide staff have generously hosted a youth cow elk hunt each October on their nearly 30,000 acre Morgan Creek lease with Colowyo Coal Company.
“We want the kids to see wildlife in their natural state and to appreciate the animals for what they are,” states Jarrell Massey. Massey also said he believes the hunt shows kids how people in rural areas work with the land.
On the Morgan Creek youth hunt, young hunters are first given shooting instructions at the Meeker Sportsman’s Club before they head to the base camp near the Colowyo Coal Mine entrance. The kids learn that hunting isn’t just shooting an animal. They learn how to set up a camp, cook in the field and occasionally get the chance to put tire chains on before they ever get to see an elk on the ranch. Then each young hunter heads into the field with a mentor and guide. These mentors and guides include DOW officers, trained “huntmaster” volunteers or professional outfitters that volunteer their time to assist. Rarely is there an occasion where each group doesn’t have the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife on the hunt. In the end, some kids fill their license and others don’t but all agree they had a successful hunt.
The kids aren’t the only ones that walk away rewarded by the experience. According to Massey, “There are few things as satisfying as seeing a smile on a kid’s face!”
In 2004, the local DOW office, the Northwest Chapter of the Colorado Outfitters Association, the Meeker Sportsman’s Club and Westlands Resort hosted the first ever White River Ladies Cast and Blast. Thirty-two women participated in the program designed at giving them exposure to shotgun shooting and fly fishing. DOW officers, DOW volunteers and several local guides spent the day teaching shotgun safety and shooting skills. The skills were then put to the test on a five station sporting clays course at Oak Ridge State Wildlife Area. For the other half of the day, the participants were taught about fly fishing equipment and techniques and then given the opportunity to try their luck at catching rainbow trout at the retired Bel Aire State Wildife Area hatchery ponds. A delicious field lunch was prepared and served by members from the local chapter of the Outfitters Association.
The same sponsors have hosted the White River Cast and Blast event each year since 2004. In 2006, a White River Cast and Blast II was offered for those that wished to advance their shooting and fishing skills. For this event, participants were given an opportunity to hone their shooting skills on ring-neck pheasants and fly fish on the White River.
In 2007, the focus of the White River Cast and Blast II shifted to local area youth. Buffalo Horn Ranch graciously offered up some of their land for the pheasant hunt portion of the event. With the combination of tall grass and cattails and the added bonus of pointing dogs, kids learned first hand about the joys of upland hunting. On a few occasions, they also learned how wary a “pen raised” rooster can get when feeling a little pressure!
Big Mountain Ranch has also joined with the DOW to host a variety of youth hunting events over the past two years. A youth turkey hunt was held on the Rifle side of Big Mountain Ranch in 2006. Kids and their mentors were again given the chance to work on their camping skills at Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area. Then each hunter, a local DOW officer and a ranch guide headed into the field well before dawn. At the end of the one day hunt, no birds were taken but each young hunter felt the thrill of the spring hunt as they saw and heard strutting gobblers.
In December 2006 and again in 2007, the Big Mountain Ranch hosted a youth cow elk hunt. Ranch owner Jim Goff and manager Adam Wells have both been very supportive of the DOW’s youth hunting program and should be commended for their generosity and efforts. The Big Mountain Ranch youth cow elk hunts are very similar to the other DOW youth hunts in which the kids learn that hunting is much more than just shooting an animal. Big Mountain Ranch offers prime wildlife habitat. The youth hunters don’t always fill their tags but they learn a great deal, get the chance to see lots of wildlife and they all come away knowing that a successful hunt isn’t always about whether you down an animal or not.
National statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Census Bureau indicate that the number of hunters and fishermen is on the decline nationwide. It’s estimated that sportsmen numbers have declined an average of 4 percent each year since 1990. Surveys indicate factors such as: a lack of places to hunt/fish, lack of mentors and busy lifestyles all contribute to the slow decline of our outdoor heritage. A strong partnership between dedicated landowners, the Division of Wildlife and sponsoring sportsman’s organizations has provided a new vision for the future hunters and fishermen of Colorado. DOW is committed to continuing to work with landowners to provide access to private lands, train Huntmasters and volunteers to teach, coach and mentor young hunters.
“We can provide positive experiences, family support and education that will help sustain the future of our hunting and fishing traditions in Colorado,” said Jon Wangnild, DOW district wildlife manager in Meeker. “This not only provides for the future of the recreational opportunities but it provides the support that the Division of Wildlife needs to continue effective wildlife management for future generations to enjoy.”
If you are a landowner interested in sponsoring a youth hunting event (big game, small game, turkey, etc.) or if you are a volunteer who would like to help with a youth hunting event, please call the Meeker DOW Office at (970) 878-6090 and ask for more information about the Hunter Outreach Program.