License draws strong despite new gun control measures

The 2013 hunting season in Northwest Colorado is shaping up well despite concerns about new firearm legislation that took effect July 1.

After Colorado House Bills 13-1224 and 13-1229 were signed into law, hunting concerns arose when out-of-state hunters said they might boycott Colorado if the gun laws passed. While there still are several steps to go in the license sales and distribution process, the limited big game draw showed a 4 percent increase in demand for Colorado in 2013 compared to 2012. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, more than 197,000 people put in for elk licenses in Colorado, compared to 191,000 last year.

Of the 103,000 people who drew licenses, 28,452 were out-of-staters, up by 400 from 2012. In most regional GMUs, the demand for cow elk licenses is equal to or higher than last year. Mule deer demand is also up this year.

To Colorado Parks and Wildlife, that’s a good sign to meet their goal of managing herds. The laws “really won’t affect hunting, and hunting regulations haven’t changed,” says CPW’s Mike Porras. “During the application and draw process, we saw the 4 percent increase, and that’s a positive sign. But we still need to see over-the-counter sales.”

Chris Jurney, owner of Craig’s Chris Jurney Outfitting, thinks over-the-counter sales is where Colorado could see some trouble. “A boycott won’t necessarily show up in a limited draw, where you have a higher potential for trophy animals,” he says. “The place it will show up this year is during the over-the-counter, second and third seasons. There’s still a demand, but I believe we’ll be affected.”

Nonresident hunters accounted for 17 percent of the CPW budget last year, according to CPW data.

While 2013 appears to be another good year for hunting in Colorado, people are concerned about the years to come. Shari Kempton, of Maybell’s R&R Ranch, is a landowner from Florida who watched the Colorado laws pass from afar. She heard immediate concern from hunters. “I think everybody got nervous at first and a lot of my regular hunters called and were asking questions,” Kempton says. “I told them I thought everything was going to be OK, and so far it has.”

Parks and Wildlife has been educating the public about the actual effects the new House bills could have on hunting. Regarding HB 13-1229, which requires background checks before the transfer or sale of a gun, hunting activities are exempt as long as the hunting is legal and the transferee has the required permit for the firearm.

Some of this dissecting has helped alleviate concerns about the laws, Porras says. “The level of discourse and the level of conversation has diminished,” he says. “The number of calls to our agency is down. But I’m sure there are still people who are upset about the new laws.”

Jurney thinks it’s still a major concern around the country and is an issue that’s not going away anytime soon. “It hasn’t died down,” he says. “It’s doesn’t actually affect hunting; it’s more of a principle issue than anything else.”

Jurney, a member of the Colorado Outfitters Association who attended the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting this year in Houston, has seen the passion and disappointment some hunters share about the laws. “Hunting isn’t something nonresidents have to come out here every year to do,” he says. “So if the law affects what they believe, there’s no real reason to come. And we’ve felt that loud and clear.”

The bigger concern at this point for Kempton is the herds — especially of mule deer — continuing to rebound so more of her regulars can draw the tags they want.

But regardless of the laws or herd sizes, Colorado should still be considered a great destination hunting state, Porras says.

“Colorado still has the best hunting in the country and some of the largest elk herds,” he says. “We have over-the-counter bull elk licenses, not available anywhere else in the country. A hunter can come here and buy a license to hunt an elk without drawing one. There’s still a lot of opportunity.”