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Lessons Learned
Lessons Learned

​​​​Nov. 6, 2011​

Jim Bulger​

We have finished the second rifle season and begun the third on the 5th of November.  The October snows have begun to move some of the elk to lower elevations and while the winter migrations have not started in earnest yet, it will be soon. I hope we have addressed most of the questions that have arrived by email in the “lessons” sections.  If not, send us an email and we will try to add it to our class notes.  There are always those little questions that arise each year, so put your “hand up in class” and ask them.

I asked the wildlife officers in the field to send me some short “lessons learned” about the season so far, in an effort to share some stories with you about things we see in the field. I like to try to create an “education moment” from the things we are seeing; some are violations of law and some are inexperience of the hunter. I think it's prudent for each of you to read these and understand what happened and why it happened.

We can all learn from each other and avoid the mistakes if possible. Here, are the lessons learned:

Area Wildlife Manager Bill deVergie:

"Knowing your target cannot be hammered home enough."

During the first rifle hunt, we had four buck-deer mistaken for elk and killed. The tall grass hid the deer's body, so the hunters thought they were small bulls.  One person in this hunting party informed the shooter that they "normally don't see a lot of elk in this area, so do not hesitate to shoot." This was a first time hunter.  One moose has also been killed so far. 

Knowing your target cannot be hammered home enough. Also, I cannot emphasize this enough: be aware that backpacks can cover up your orange clothing fairly well. This will lead to trouble eventually, especially if you are being viewed from behind.

Lesson Learned:  

Be sure of your target and what is beyond it. You learned this in your first hunter education class. Each year animals are killed because of mistaken identity. There's little excuse for the error. In Colorado, we have mule deer with large antlers and moose (both cows and young bulls) that can be the size of an elk. If the hunter takes the time to clearly identify what's in sight, the coloration or size of the three species will clearly tell.  I added this picture of a mule deer buck, bedded with some elk. While rare to see this, it does happen and you can clearly see the difference in the antlers and coloration of the two species. Look behind the buck and you will see a bull elk rack.

Look at page seven of the 2011 Colorado Big Game Brochure at the top.  Daylight fluorescent orange is a legal requirement in Colorado. Five-hundred square inches above the waist is the law. Hunters need to wear both a hat and the vest. If the hunter wears a backpack be sure wear a pack cover that is also daylight fluorescent orange.   You can buy one between $8.00 and $15.00 from any of the major sporting goods stores. These pack covers protect against rain and snow as well. You need to invest in one, making sure to meet the requirements of the law.

Wildlife Technician Karl Copeman:

"Talk to your local game warden. We are here to assist."

I just encountered four gentlemen from New Jersey, who were in Colorado elk hunting. I have worked with two of them since 2008. From the beginning, they have been determined to do everything correctly, including discussing the numerous ins and outs of elk hunting. Just this year, we discussed the use of a motor vehicle on federal land, after a PA was issued for an ATV retrieval of an elk.

They asked, "Where can we find out all the information we need to know?"

I told them, "Just ask your local game warden, that's the best way."

After issuing the PA, I shook hands with each hunter. They were most grateful for me taking the time to explain the differences between private, state, and federal lands and motor vehicle use for each.

Bottom line is: talk to the local game warden. We are there to assist, not to just write tickets. Just recently, I put six different hunters on elk, and each one harvested. I believe that if the hunting public knew that we were there to assist, and recognized that we are THE local experts, we would acquire a few new friends.

Lesson Learned:  

I think Karl hit the lesson on the head. Talk to the officer in the field. I understand that trying to contact them before the season is a challenge - we have only a few officers and a lot of people trying to call them. But when you see an officer in the field or one stops by your camp, spend some time talk to them. They will help you.

District Wildlife Manager Tonya Sharp:

"Before you leave camp: check to ensure you have your license."

I contacted two hunters, who were brothers, hunting during first rifle elk season. I asked for their licenses and one of the brothers could not find his. I confirmed on my list of licenses that the other brother did indeed have his license, but he needed to confirm it was left at their camp. I followed them about five miles back to camp. Once there, he found his license. 

We then had a good conversation/educational moment on the importance of having both your license AND carcass tag with you.  What if he harvested his elk?  Would he have needed to transport an untagged animal?  The hunter did not sign his license either.  I would estimate 75 percent of hunters who receive limited draw licenses in the mail do not sign their licenses.  Since I could tell this hunter was new at hunting, I walked him through the proper way to void a carcass tag.

Lesson Learned:

There are multiple lessons in this short example from Tonya and we see far too many cases of this each year in the field.

Lesson one: Before you leave camp, check to ensure you have your license, bullets, rifle and all the things you need for the day. If the hunter had harvested an animal, he had no carcass tag to validate at the site of the harvest. Rather than walk the five miles back to camp to get it and return to the site of the harvest to validate it (10 miles round trip) he may have decided to dress the animal and pack it back to camp. Now there are two illegal actions, hunting without a license and failure to validate the carcass tag at the site of the harvest.

Lesson two: Sign your license when you purchase it.  It is a requirement by law for you to certify the information on the license is correct before you begin to hunt. Before you sign it, verify the information on it. Not just your name and address but the season dates, game management unit, your hunter education information and the species/gender of the animal you think you have bought a license to hunt.

Far too often, hunters purchase a license and fail to check it, only to discover, during the hunt, that the clerk at the store entered the wrong game management unit or wrong season dates. It is your responsibility as the hunter to verify the information. The store clerk is not hunting. Sign the license when you buy it to verify the information is correct. Sign the carcass tag, date it and mark the harvest information at the site of the harvest.

Lesson three: If you are not sure of the legal requirements, ask a wildlife officer or call our customer service staff, they are glad to help you learn and understand the laws before you head off to the field.

District Wildlife Manager Vicki Madrid:

"Colorado law states that evidence of the sex must be naturally attached to a major portion of the meat."

Once, when I was checking a hunter’s bull elk hanging in his camp, I noticed a plastic bag hanging on the inside of one of the hind quarters.  When I examined it closer, it was a small plastic bag with the male organ (testicles) inside of it, paper clipped to the hide. 

When I asked the hunter if he knew what “naturally attached” meant, he said, “it is, I just helped it.” The hunter then followed up, admitting he accidentally cut off the sex organ. 

Lesson Learned: 

Colorado law states that evidence of the sex must be naturally attached to a major portion of the meat. This means part of the skin must remain attached to the meat portion and to either the udder (cow/doe) or penis/testicles (bull/buck).  Too often hunters get busy with the field dressing and fail to leave the proper evidence of the sex attached.

There are many ways to get it right. Find your own method. For me, once I get the field dressing part done and start to skin and quarter, I make sure to cut around the udder or scrotum, set that part attached aside and quarter out that hind quarter first.  Just get into the habit.

And why does this requirement exist?  It's pretty basic: The officer in the field, and all the way to the processor, must be able to verify that the animal harvested was allowed by the license.

Area Wildlife Manager Bill deVergie:

"Elk are amazing animals. At times, when shot in a vital area, will still act like nothing happened."

All too often we have hunters shooting multiple animals in the field.

A short example is a non-resident hunter who stalked a good bull elk and got into a comfortable shooting range. He shot and the bull just stood there. After a minute or so the bull turned and walked up the ridge and out of sight.  As the hunter stood there, trying to determine how could I have missed, a second bull walked into sight, where the first bull stood.  The hunter shot and dropped the elk in his tracks. 

As he approached the elk, his hunting partner came from along the ridge and spotted the first elk the hunter had shot. The had died just over the ridge, out of sight.  The hunter properly contacted a wildlife officer and reported his mistake.

Lesson Learned:  

Elk are amazing animals. At times, when shot in a vital area, elk will still act like nothing happened. They do not react as a hunter believes they should. All too often, the hunter believes he missed the animal when actually the shot was well-placed. 

Hunters must know their capability and trust their shot.  The best rule of thumb, when hunting elk, is to believe you hit the animal on the first shot. Until you can confirm you did not, you must not try to take a different animal.  The only way you can tell for sure you hit the elk is to search the area for blood.  

To find the exact spot where the elk was standing will require you to mark the spot from where you shot. Then look for good landmarks where the elk was located when the shot was fired. Ensure you can find it after you leave the place from which you first shot.  Once at the proper location, start looking hard for blood. Get on your hands and knees if necessary. Be sure you did or did not hit the animal.  Many elk hunters tell stories of hitting elk with a quality vital-area shot and finding the elk traveling a great distance before expiring.  Take your time and trust your shot.

Hunter Education Coordinator, Mark Cousins:

"People are making a long trip to Colorado and finding out they do not have the proper certification to purchase a license."

We are seeing an increasing number of people, particularly non-residents attempting to purchase a license without an Hunter Education card. 

Colorado law requires all hunters to attend a hunter education course in order to purchase a license and hunt. People make long trips to Colorado only to find they do not have the proper certification to purchase a license. 

Hunters must carry proof of hunter education with them while in the field--unless the license shows verification of the hunter education course.

Lesson Learned:

Hunters must have proof of hunter education prior to purchasing a license. They need to bring the card with them when the license purchase is made and carry it with them in the field. Read page two of the 2011 Big Game Brochure to ensure you have met all the proper requirements.