Wilderness Wanderings: Hike smart during hunting season | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: Hike smart during hunting season

Fall colors in Flat Tops Wilderness Area. (Photo by Katie Berning)

It’s hunting season. So is it time to give up hiking until next year? Not necessarily, if we hike smart.

“During the hunting season there are multiple users on public lands and the national forest,” said Kris Middledorf, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “There should be joint effort on all users to know their surroundings.”

Also, hunters, hikers and other forest visitors have a shared interest in being safety conscious. Although it’s not required that hikers wear a fluorescent orange hunting vest, hat or other brightly colored clothing during hunting season, it’s a good idea to do so.

At a glance

Following are the remaining big game hunting dates for our region. One can note that there are breaks between each of the elk seasons when no hunting is allowed. Those include Oct. 18 and 19, Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 and Nov. 12 and 13.

• Moose: Oct. 1–14
• Elk (1st season):  Oct. 13 to 17
• Combined (deer/elk) (2nd season):  Oct. 20 to 28
• Combined deer/elk: 3rd season):  Nov. 3 to 11
• Combined  (deer/elk) (4th season):  Nov. 14 to 18

That also applies to making sure your dog is safe. “Keep dogs on a leash,” Middledorf said, because a dog running loose off trail could more easily be mistaken for a wild animal. “And they should have a bright colored collar or handkerchief to help them stand out.”

He also suggests that equestrians — whether or not they are hunting  — put bright colors on their horse or other pack stock.

Hikers should give consideration to the type of hunting being conducted when making their hunting plans. Bow and arrow and traditional muzzleloader rifles have a much more limited range — 50 to 100 yards  — than high power rifles.

“Archery and muzzle loading seasons are generally very safe,” said Perk Heid, who — with his father, Ray — runs Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch and operates hunt camps in and near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. During rifle season — mid-October to mid-November — it’s a different situation.

Another consideration is the time of day we plan for our hike or other outing. “Most hunters go out before daylight and are done by 9 or 10 (a.m.),” Heid said. “Then they go back out around 5 (p.m.). So the time to hike is between 9 (a.m.) and 5 (p.m.).”

Heid also offers that hikers are less likely to encounter hunters because they utilize different parts of the land. “Not many hunters hunt from the trail,” he said. Elk avoid trails because they smell like people. “Hunters tend to not go to the very popular areas.”

Middledorf said “the high country lakes in the Zirkels attract quite a bit of activity during archery and early rifle season,” but hunters usually head down to lower elevations when the snow starts.

He also points out that even though they may not be actively hunting, hunters might utilize any trailhead or trail to access areas where they plan to hunt, even Spring Creek or Fish Creek Falls. “Mad Creek is a very big trailhead for hunters,” he said. Middledorf added that some hunters use Fish Creek Falls Trail to access the Steamboat Ski Area.

Thus, in our locale it’s less likely one would come across an active hunter on trails such as lower Fish Creek Falls, Gilpin or Gold Creek lakes. In the Flat Top Wilderness Area, the popularity of Devil’s Causeway discourages elk activity and thus hunting in that vicinity.

But one can assume they’ll encounter hunters near Three Island and North lakes, Encampment Meadow and the high elevation lakes around 1101/Wyoming Trail. Popular access areas for hunters include Dumont Lake, Buffalo Park and trails such as Red Dirt, Derby, Mandell Lakes, Sarvis Creek and Silver Creek.

Another safety factor in regards to hunting season is the increased number of horses and mules on the trail. Proper trail etiquette is for hikers and bikers to step off to the lower side of the trail when approaching horses.

“Not a lot of people have experience being around horses,” said Heid. He encourages hikers to talk to the horses “because it lets them know you’re another person. You don’t ever want to hide or be really quiet because that tells the horse you’re a predator.”

Another consideration when hiking is when you approach horses from the rear. The horses don’t necessarily see you and again they think you may be a threat.

Mountain bikers can also create a dangerous situation, said Heid, because they approach so quickly that a horse may not see them. “The hard part is when a mountain bike is coming up from the rear. In the horse’s mind, that’s very predatory,” Heid explained.

A horse can become unpredictable or less manageable when it’s feeling a potential threat. And that can cause a safety issue for the rider and horse in addition to a hiker or bike rider.

Bob Korch is president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.

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