In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds. This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.
A big game hunter’s bucket list might include a trip to the slopes of Alaska’s Brooks Range for Dall sheep or an excursion deep into the southwestern desert for beautiful little Coues deer. But, one thing is certain: That list will hold a hunt for big bull elk, and there is no better place to do that than on high-country public lands in Colorado.
In Part Four of our series, we head to the northwest part of Colorado.
Moosehead Mountain is in the northwest part of the state, south of Dinosaur National Monument and not far from the towns of Rangely and Dinosaur. Its elevation tops out at about 8,400 feet and the terrain is thick with sagebrush, mountain mahogany, pinyon pine, and juniper—all the makings of a classic glass-and-stalk hunt to get in front of moving elk. Cross paths with bands of pronghorns in the warmer months and big mule deer bucks transitioning from high country to low as the snows come in.
This area serves as a portion of the home range for the second-largest elk herd in North America, including some truly big bulls scoring up to 370. It’s a wild place, remote and empty, and accessible to hunters on foot or on horseback. The bull tag for Game Management Unit 10 has been one of the most coveted big-game tags in America for decades.
Colorado elk hunters have been among the first citizens to oppose proposals for largescale transfer of federal lands to the states, because they know best what is at stake: their access to places like Moosehead Mountain and, quite possibly, the future of hunting in Colorado. Despite public opposition, some Colorado politicians are pushing the idea, and two land transfer bills were promoted by anti-government activists during the 2015 legislative session. More than 200 sportsmen and women rallied at the Colorado state capitol in opposition to this legislation, and the bills were defeated.
Currently, federal land managers are bound by law to manage public lands like Moosehead Mountain for multiple uses, such as for wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. The state of Colorado has no such multiple-use mandate, and, to the contrary, its mandate is to maximize profits from state-held public lands, not to conserve resources or access to hunting and fishing. In fact, most state lands in Colorado are closed to hunting, fishing, shooting, and camping, and so sportsmen must remain diligent to put a stop to any proposals that threaten our ability to pursue these American traditions on federal public lands.
State management of these lands could result in unrestricted development, based solely on what will net the highest possible profits. It might even mean the outright sale of game-rich lands, like Moosehead Mountain, to private interests that will make a fortune selling access or high-priced hunts on what now belongs to every American hunter. If we want once-in-a-lifetime big-game hunts to be available to the average hunter, sportsmen need to continue to voice our opposition to this controversial idea.
Let’s cross Moosehead Mountain off our bucket lists because we’ve been there, not because we’re locked out forever.
Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.