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First big game rifle season opens Saturday

It’s October, and the 2009 big game hunting seasons continue.

This Saturday, in fact, is opening day for the first of four rifle seasons in the Colorado mountains.

Bowhunters took to the hills near the end of August, hunting first just deer and elk, then adding black bear and moose in early September. For the year, all big game archery seasons ended at sundown, Sept. 27.

Mountain muzzleloaders with limited licenses (by drawing only) stalked deer, elk and moose from Sept. 12 through Sept. 20. Those with unlimited (but capped) black bear licenses hunted during the same timeframe.

Limited licenses are those available for specific Game Management Units (GMUs) only, while capped licenses are useful in all GMUs, but are limited in number.

As mentioned, the first of four high-country rifle hunts opens Saturday, Oct. 10. Running through Wednesday, Oct. 14, it is a “separate limited elk hunt,” with all licenses available by drawing only. Over-the-counter elk licenses are not valid during this season, and hunters will not pursue deer.

The second season, Oct. 17-25, is a combined deer and elk hunt and, as the longest rifle hunt of the year, runs for nine consecutive days. Over-the-counter licenses are valid for elk, but all deer tags are limited to specific units by drawing only. Hunters must have separate licenses for deer and elk.

The third season, Oct. 31 through Nov. 6, lasts seven days and is also a combined deer and elk hunt. License restrictions are similar to those of the second season, but unused second-season licenses are not valid during the third season.

The fourth and final high-country rifle season is another combined deer and elk hunt, but valid licenses for both species are again by drawing only. Over-the-counter tags are not valid, and the season opens Nov. 11, closing at dusk, Nov. 15.

As in years past, residents must have lived in Colorado for at least six consecutive months prior to applying for a resident hunting license. Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1949 must have completed an approved hunter education course or bowhunter education course (for an archery license).

The youth hunting program has been expanded to include 16- and 17-year-olds, with all hunters between 12 and 17 eligible for reduced-cost unlimited or leftover licenses. Youths, ages 12-15, must hunt with a mentor, 18 or older, who is compliant with hunter safety requirements.

During firearm seasons, while hunting deer, elk, pronghorn, moose or bear, all hunters must wear at least 500 square inches of solid, daylight fluorescent-orange material in an outer garment above the waist. Part of the orange must be a hat or head covering visible from all directions. Camouflage orange does not qualify. Though mesh garments are legal, they are not recommended.

Big game hunters and the general public should be aware that small game hunters may also be in the field. Many small game seasons are either underway now, or will begin within the next few weeks.

New in 2006, sportsmen and conservationists joined in developing a habitat stamp, approved by the Colorado legislature. Money from stamp sales is used to buy and manage habitat for hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing.

The stamp is $5 for those 19-64, and is required on the first two hunting or fishing licenses bought in a calendar year. If bought without a license, the stamp is $10.25, which includes a 25-cent search-and-rescue surcharge. The stamp is no longer required of non-hunters or anglers 19-64, who wish to visit state wildlife areas or state trust lands leased by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW).

A Wildlife Management Public Education surcharge is added to the cost of every hunting and fishing license sold in Colorado. The 75-cent fee generates funds for educating the public as to the benefits of wildlife, wildlife management and wildlife-related recreation.

For complete hunting season information and a good guide to carry in the field, hunters should obtain a “Big Game Brochure” available from any hunting and fishing license vendor, or the DOW at: DOW, Southwest Region Service Center, 151 E. 16th St., Durango, CO 81301. Online, information is available at http://wildlife.state.co.us.

Non-hunters wishing to utilize public lands during these seasons are advised to wear bright orange hats and clothing, and apply liberal orange flagging to horses or pets.

chuck@pagosasun.com