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Lesson 1
Lesson 1

​​​​​​​​​​Hunt Planning Army Style

​Consider Your Options

By Aaron Bulger

Big Game Hunters © G.Tischbein/CPW For new or seasoned hunters in Colorado, it is sometimes difficult to understand all of the options to consider when you are planning for the Colorado limited license drawing. There are a number of choices you can pursue that will get you into the woods every year, yet allow you to accumulate preference points to finally being able to draw that dream unit some 10 or so years later. Some of your choices are based on age, savings account and patience. In the end, having the ability to draw your desired unit allows the patient hunter the opportunity to build the skills, endurance and, of course, vacation time needed to make the most out of his or her investment. One common misconception is if you want to draw a quality place to hunt, it has to be drawn through your first choice. There are areas in the state that provide such a small quota of tags and are managed specifically for trophy animals. Many of these areas will consistently take ten or more preference points to finally be successful in the draw. This is not always the best route to go. For the hunter who plans on pursuing big game in the state of Colorado year after year, it can be productive to do their research on areas that they can draw using second, third or fourth choice, and building their budget of preference points. One of the most popular questions remains, “How am I supposed to hunt a good area, and build points at the same time?” The answer is by doing some research and getting a good idea of what hunt codes are typically strong second and third choice draws.

Coming from a military background, I believe in the tactics that I have been taught:

  • never enter a fight unprepared

  • always know the objective of the mission

  • know how to use the tools you have to turn the odds in your favor

One of the major lessons I learned while serving my country was the five principles of patrol: Planning, Security, Recon, Control and Common Sense. These basic military principles are the foundation of a successful mission and can also be the foundation of a successful hunt. Here’s how to launch an active campaign and be the master of your hunting experience.

Planning

A snow covered mountain near Buena Vista © D.Hannigan/CPWNo mission will ever be successful without devising a plan. It’s important to make the best of your hunting opportunities in Colorado, not only to provide meat for the table year after year but to build a future hunt. This will result in a hunt that you have waited for and bring you many great memories. In the planning phase, I encourage a hunter to decide on a unit that he or she thinks will be a high success unit for a trophy animal. No doubt, this unit may be a goal that requires a bundle of points and years of building points to achieve. But let’s face it - life is all about building goals and working toward them. 

When planning your hunting area, one of the things that you should keep in mind is the age you will be when may realistically you draw. Know your limitations; if you are 45 now and have problems moving through steep terrain, chances are that when you are 55 you will have a stronger distaste for climbing at 11,000 feet than what you have now.

Security

In the military, security means using your assets in order to provide the best chance of completing the mission. Applied to hunting, its meaning is no different. You creatively use your knowledge of the limited license process and references to gain another hunt in that area for different species, different sex, or hunt adjacent areas so once you have completed your hunt (or just want to go for a drive), you can become familiar with your “goal area.”There are tools available to hunters through this website that can give you an overview of every years draw. You can better understand the draw by looking at the big game statistics, including minimum preference point charts, draw summary reports, and the hunt recap summary to understand how the tags were distributed. These charts are not the easiest to understand, but there are aids on how to read them. These tools will give you an idea of what areas you can draw with second, third or fourth choice options, in order to acquire preference points.

The harvest reports are also posted online, typically during the summer following a season. This will give you an idea of which seasons have been the best time to hunt in each unit. It will show the number of hunters in a given area, to give you a good estimate of hunting pressure. It also will tell you the numbers of males, females and yearlings harvested in a given season. All in all, letting you know the overall success rate for the specific tag.

All of these tools are at your disposal, and it is to your advantage to use them. The more you know, the better off you are. You wouldn’t save your money for ten years to buy a new truck and not do your research and test drive it. So why would you not research a hunt you have been dreaming about for years?

Recon

 

Colorado Hunting Atlas - Getting Started from Colorado Parks & Wildlife on Vimeo.

 

I believe this is the bread and butter of a successful hunt. The lowest level of recon in the military before a mission takes place is a map recon. In hunting, you can cut down on “wandering” time just by organizing your thoughts on where you think the animals might be. North facing slopes, meadows, creek bottoms, watering holes and blown-down timber are all good places to start. Being able to read a map, think like the game, and know the habits and natural desires of where the game wants to be are all things to take into account. Tools such as aerial maps, topo maps and street maps will allow you to get the best idea of the area you will be hunting. (Editor's note: Build your own map with the Colorado Hunting Atlas tool. See the Colorado Hunting Atlas tutorials for help.)Once you have conducted a map recon, it is time to get boots on ground. Come up with a game plan on a route that you want to hike, looking for areas that elk would normally move to, through or from. Mark waypoints on your GPS so that you know how to navigate to these areas in the dark.

Control

Create memories that will last a lifetimeYou are in control of your hunt. Only you can put in the time and effort that it will take to have a successful hunt and build the memories that will literally last you a lifetime. Just through the draw, you control the season you hunt - whether it’s during the rut, early season or a late season. You have the tools to control the terrain you hunt, the weapon of choice and, most importantly, the animal you harvest. It’s always scary to think about drawing your trophy unit, and making the decision to harvest a 350-class bull on the first day of the hunt. However, if you do your homework and you go into the fight prepared, you can make an educated decision. You will know which animals are typically in the area during that time of year, and you will have more “intel” on them than they have on you.

Common Sense

All the ideas discussed above can make the hunt you've dreamed about become a reality. Now you must apply some common sense to those skills you have acquired over the years of “practice.” You need to know your comfortable shooting range with the style of weapon you chose to use, know your abilities and know the animals. One of the tools you will build as you hunt year after year is your instincts. The more you do something, the more it becomes common sense to you. If it takes 10 years for you to draw that dream unit, why not hone your skills every year? Then when the big one comes, you are ready. It’s called training!

Hunt Planner Team

Hunt PlanningCPW has developed a team designed to assist hunters in becoming more successful in the draw and to offer other hunting options to those unsuccessful in drawing initially. The Hunt Planner Team will provide unmatched customer service, followed by expert advice. It's the Hunt Planner Team who is at your disposal. If you have any questions about the draw or public land in the areas you plan on hunting, I encourage you to give us a call. We can be reached at 303-291-PLAN.

Military techniques and tactics aside, I hope you make the choice to venture into the backcountry every year, enjoy the freedom to hear the bugle of a far-off bull, catch a glimpse of that sly Mulie buck, or watch the battle of two pronghorns during the rut. I hope you feel your heart leap in your chest as the adrenaline surges though your veins when you see that once-in-a-lifetime animal. And, most of all, I hope you share the passion of hunting with the people who mean the most to you. I wish you all the best of luck!