by Carl Luppens
For many people, one of the real attractions of a ranch in the Rocky Mountains is the abundance of wildlife. Some just like to watch the wildlife and are proud to provide and protect their habitat. Others, often even more committed to habitat preservation, enjoy the western tradition of hunting – they like the sporting challenge as well as the results of harvesting high quality food for their families.
While game is abundant in many areas in the West, hunting on private land can be difficult. The accessible areas are often overcrowded and the game is frequently driven from the public land (National Forest, State and BLM) onto private land (ranches – game driven into subdivisions is not a good thing).
In Colorado, thousands of big game hunters spend a large portion of September, October and November in the field. Elk is the primary trophy and, statewide, the success ratio is around 15%. On private ranches where the hunting is “fair chase”, success ratios are commonly 90+%. The hunting is still difficult but, with hard work and a high level of skill, the private ranch hunter will usually be rewarded. Random luck is taken out of the equation as the main determinant of success. Hunters are also not victims of the actions of other hunters who may stumble by at just the wrong moment or inadvertently drive off game by their simple, often noisy, presence.
Hunting on one’s own ranch can also be so much more pleasurable in that, while the hunt itself is just as rugged, the hunters can eat indoors and sleep in a warm bed. They can move into prime habitat before dawn but still return to their ranch headquarters after dark. The process of retrieving and caring for the meat is not nearly as brutal as it can be when a hunter is many miles back into the National Forest or wilderness dealing with severe restrictions on vehicles and equipment.
Over the last decade, with careful land management, we’ve seen elk and deer herds grow, bear proliferate, mountain lions thrive and pronghorn antelope and moose return to the area after a 100 year absence. Along with this big game rebound, non-game wildlife has prospered – eagles, hawks, coyotes, and foxes are abundant. The plant species, the key to the habitat, have improved. Hunters can mange their land and habitat for healthy and diverse wildlife populations much more effectively and successfully than governmental agencies can ever begin to. The state and federal financial support of conservation easements is a testament to this fact.
Archery hunting for elk is considered a supreme challenge. We hear of good hunters who have spent a big portion of September in the field for 15 years without taking an animal. This fall we went 5 for 5 on bull elk with bows. This is typical.