Colorado Hunter Q&A with Randy Hampton

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Region Public Information Officer

Q. What kind of impact will COVID-19 have on this year’s hunting seasons?

A. This is a really tough question to answer because it relies on a bit of guessing and a whole bunch of factors that are outside of CPW’s control.  Fortunately, hunting is a pretty isolated outdoor activity. The concern would probably come more from the out of state visitors going to grocery stores, gas stations, hotels and restaurants in communities. At that point we’d be dependent upon the decisions that are made by the state health authorities and the counties. In spring turkey season we did see Yuma County ask CPW to cancel turkey hunting, which the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission chose not to do. We did delay the season but it continued. If there’s a second surge, we would expect some counties to raise concerns, but there are so many moving parts that it is very difficult to guess. I think we’re doing what most hunters are doing — following the rules now to minimize the impact when the seasons arrive.

Q. What is the health of the deer herds/population in the Northwest region?

A. Deer and elk herds are doing fairly well overall. Statewide, deer populations have declined from the numbers that were seen a decade ago. Issues related to chronic wasting disease and loss of winter range seem to be the most significant challenges. Habitat declines due to drought has also had an impact on deer, which tend to be less hardy than elk populations. Elk populations statewide continue to be strong and fairly steady. We are seeing a big challenge with increasing outdoor recreation participation. While it’s great that more people are getting outside — trail running, mountain biking, backcountry skiing, hiking and camping — that means herds see more constant disturbance. That disturbance creates stress, which in turn leads to higher winter mortality and lower birth rates. It’s something we’re trying to work with federal partners at the BLM, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to manage.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on what the future may hold for hunting?

A. Big topic and big questions. If you look purely at hunter participation numbers, you’ll see a declining trend for the last decade or so. A lot of factors are involved. Much of the decline in participation is due to aging baby boomers leaving the sport as well as the trend toward urbanization. But it isn’t all bad news for hunting. A growing push toward self sustainability and organic food is inspiring a new generation of hunters. The ‘field to fork’ movement is growing and podcasts like MeatEater are drawing more interest. In addition, COVID-19 seems to be pushing more people to consider rural living. Supply chain challenges during the outbreak have pushed people to think more about how they might live off the land in the future. Will that save hunting? Once again, it would take a crystal ball to know the answer.

Q. Where might Colorado Parks and Wildlife look to diversify its funding for wildlife management?

A. If hunting participation continues to decline, there’s a good chance that CPW will have to seek alternative funding. Hunters and anglers have carried the financial weight for decades as a key element of the North American model of wildlife management. While some hunters would be glad to see other financial support arrive, there are also hunters that feel that sportspeople would lose their voice if wildlife management was funded by general fund tax revenue. There’s no perfect answer but it may be too early to write off the current system, especially if participation bounces back because of the current pandemic.

Q. What are the fall hunting seasons like for CPW staff?

A. Fall hunting seasons are certainly a busy time for our wildlife managers, but today’s wildlife managers are really busy year-round. The year typically begins with post-hunt herd count flights and analysis on license setting for the next hunting seasons. With more people in the state, there’s always moose conflict in the winter and bear conflict issues in the summer. Then the hunting seasons. CPW is a dual-role agency, meaning that our wildlife managers, sometimes called “game wardens,” are wildlife biologists who are additionally trained as law enforcement officers. While a hunter may encounter them in the field during the hunting season, the contact isn’t just about enforcing the regulations but also about gathering information from the people in the field. During the hunting seasons, those wildlife managers will be in the field almost constantly from start to finish. They cover hundreds of square miles in a day in the truck, on foot, or on horseback. It’s not uncommon to leave the house at 4 a.m. and return at 9 or 10 p.m. It’s exhausting but most district wildlife managers will tell you that it’s really the best part of their job — it’s what they got into the business to do. When seasons are over, managers are right back out there in the field making sure that herds are protected from poachers on winter range, when they are most vulnerable. For today’s wildlife manager, there’s little time off and most of it comes before the hunting seasons or in that narrow sliver of early spring when the deer and elk are headed back to the high country and before the bears have really started waking up.

Q. What advice or safety tips do you have for nonhunters wanting to recreate on public land during hunting seasons?

A. There’s a misconception that hunting is somehow extraordinarily dangerous, especially for non-hunters. If you consider that an average year has more than 300,000 licensed big game hunters in the field and reports of incidents or injuries are rare. In fact, statistically hunting is safer than playing soccer, swimming, surfing or rock climbing. Hunting has become safer over the years because of hunter education training requirements and because agencies like CPW work to constantly educate hunters and outdoor recreationists alike … so, know where you’re recreating and know what seasons are occurring in the areas where you might be hiking or biking. Wear daylight fluorescent orange or daylight fluorescent pink so you’re easily seen by hunters. Hike or bike where other people are also recreating because active areas tend to see less big game animals and thus less hunters. Stick to the trail for recreation and get away from the trail to hunt.

Q. Is there any favorite anecdote or story from your own experiences as a hunter, or perhaps someone else’s, that you’d like to share?

A. What I can tell you is about the hundreds of people that I’ve met while hunting or working with our officers checking hunters. People from all around the country have become solid acquaintances that call every year to check on the hunting conditions and that invite me to visit them if I ever get to their home states. Hunting is a down-to-earth sport with a lot of down-to-earth participants. People tend to focus on the occasional poacher or person who is careless but most hunters are decent people who want healthy herds and to harvest food for their families. It’s not the anecdotes that define hunting — it’s the thousands of people who do it the right way for the right reasons that we should be talking about when the opportunity arises.

Q. Is there anything else hunting-related not addressed above that you’d like to touch on?

Like so many other things, hunting is changing. Today’s hunter is likely to include a hipster with a desire for free-range, organic, lean meat. He or she doesn’t support factory farming. They may even have different politics and a different world view. They train for hunting by engaging in other outdoor activities. They hunt as families and sit around the fire becoming closer together. At the same time, racial diversity in hunting is growing. Latino hunters are one of the fastest growing segments in outdoor recreation. Hunters are more frequently taking a broad environmental view and leading the charge in protecting wildlife habitat to sustain herds for future generations. While others see the declining trend of hunter participation in the past decade, I find myself looking at the opportunities to be part of what hunting will become in the future.