Throughout the adjoining San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests — which together comprise nearly four million acres of diverse elevation and terrain — black bears, cougars, bighorn sheep, and considerable herds of mule deer and elk seasonally migrate between winter and summer ranges. Though far fewer in number, Shiras moose also inhabit the territory.
To gain access, hunters utilize a vast network of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management roads, while myriad foot and horseback trails offer passage into vehicle-restricted regions such as the rugged and remote Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas. Though hunting is allowed on most National Forest and BLM lands, wise hunters will predetermine existing restrictions, before deciding where to set camp.
For example, designated wilderness areas, including the Piedra Area northwest of Pagosa Springs, are closed to all forms of mechanized travel (including bicycles and wheelchairs) at all times. Elsewhere, to temporarily limit damage and erosion, certain roads and trails may be closed to motorized travel only during snowmelt or periods of inclement weather.
By calling the Pagosa Ranger District office at (970)264-2268, hunters can learn of travel management policies and restrictions affecting specified hunting grounds, and obtain information related to other activities that might coincide with big game seasons — such as domestic livestock grazing, prescribed burns and special recreational events.
Through direction from the Colorado Wildlife Commission, the Colorado Division of Wildlife governs bag limits, season dates and licensing information for big- and small-game hunts.
Though subject to changes from year to year, the first of this year’s big game seasons begins August 28 (archery deer and elk), while final limited deer and elk (rifle) season wraps up Nov. 21. Limited, antlerless elk seasons may be available between Nov. 22 and Jan. 31, 2011, depending on population objectives in certain game management units across the state.
Obtaining licenses to hunt big game in Colorado often requires participation in a drawing. The deadline for entering select season draws is April 6 this year, but for hunters who miss the entry date, a good number of over-the-counter licenses will be available in the same or similar areas.
Since 1987, a mandatory 25-cent Search and Rescue surcharge has been added to the cost of all Colorado hunting and fishing licenses. In 1999, the Colorado Legislature added another 75-cent Public Education Advisory Council surcharge, and a $5 Habitat Stamp fee to all license costs. The Habitat Stamp fee is added only to the first two hunting and/or fishing licenses purchased by a single individual in a given year.
Documentation proving completion of a hunter education course is a must for all hunters born Jan. 1, 1949 or after, who wish to pursue any game species in Colorado. Licenses will not be granted without such verification for those requiring it.
For hunters unfamiliar with the surrounding countryside, visiting with one of many local guides, outfitters or sporting goods stores may improve odds for a successful hunt in the Pagosa Springs area. Most local merchants also carry the latest copies of DOW hunting brochures for big- and small-game species, which include season dates, legal methods of take, maps, and game unit boundaries and descriptions.
For more information regarding hunting opportunities in Pagosa Country, stop by the U.S. Forest Service Pagosa Ranger District office located at 180 Pagosa St. (U.S. 160 on the east side of town), or visit the DOW Web site at wildlife.state.co.us. The Durango DOW office is available at (970)247-0855.