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Take A Western Predator Winter Road Trip


Not only does the state boast of excellent predator hunting, it also ranks as a top destination for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, as well as craft breweries—there are over 300 statewide—and unbeatable mountain townscapes.

by Eric Conn

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Looking for a different kind of winter getaway? Colorado offers world-class predator hunting, as well as skiing, snowboarding and craft-brewed nightlife.

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With major big game seasons wrapping up in December and snow piling up aplenty January through March, Colorado becomes a winter wonderland for predators of all shapes and sizes. Sure, you can hunt most predators at other times statewide (coyotes, for example, are year-round), but there’s something magical about this timeframe that makes a trip westward especially worthwhile.

If you’re planning a mid- to late-winter trip to Colorado, there are plenty of ways to get the most out of the experience. Not only does the state boast of excellent predator hunting, it also ranks as a top destination for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, as well as craft breweries—there are over 300 statewide—and unbeatable mountain townscapes. Here’s how to get the most out of your next winter adventure.

YoteARgun600Predator hunters who hail from the East, South, or Midwest need to experience the unique sights and challenge that is western predator hunting. What are you waiting for?
TWO PRIMARY STATE REGIONS TO CONSIDER
It’s a bit oversimplified, but there are basically two regions of the state to consider. The eastern plains, which we’ll call anything east of I-25, are predominantly comprised of private land, which means you’ll either have to go door to door or entrust yourself to the services of a local guide with private access. There are more coyotes in this part of the state, however, so a little extra legwork (or cash) may be worth it. If you do go the DIY route, keep in mind that the eastern plains are vast, and most landowners see coyotes as a nuisance, so there are plenty of people who’ll grant you access.

The other part of the state, which we’ll call everything west of I-25, is generally more mountainous and contains thousands upon thousands of acres of public land, either in the form of BLM, state wildlife areas (SWA) or national forests. Many of the wide open BLM stretches in the western part of the state are fantastic for song dogs, bobcats and rabbits. The best way to hunt these areas is to purchase a BLM map or, even better, a mapping program for your GPS like HuntStand hunt map for the state of Colorado. HuntStand is ideal because it includes private landowner names, hunting units, BLM land, forest areas, SWAs and more. If you don’t have the time to pour into maps and scouting, a guide is an essential asset and can get you on dogs in no time. For a substantial list of outfitters that can be searched by region and species, check out ColoradoOutfitters.org.

Puma600Making a “bucket list” western cougar hunt? Scoring early might give you several prime chances to thin some of Colorado’s strong coyote population.photo courtesy of Quentin Smith
GO WEST FOR ABUNDANT LIONS
Speaking of the northwest part of the state, the area from Meeker to Craig offers some of the best mountain lion hunting in the country. Quentin Smith, owner and operator of QRS Outdoor Specialties, said there’s an unbelievable number of mountain lions in the area surrounding the White River.

“I think if people really knew how many lions were around, they’d be shocked,” Smith said. “We generally run anywhere from 12 to 15 hunts a year and guarantee you’ll get put on a cat, 100 percent success. The hunting is simply that good.”

Glassing600Eastern predator hunters accustomed to thickly wooded terrain may be shocked to find how effective glassing for predators can be in many areas of Colorado. Bring good glass and use it often.
It’s not cheap, as most mountain lion hunts run you around $5,000, but it is a fantastic opportunity to check another item off your bucket list, especially if you’re already in the area. Nearly all the hunting is done with dogs, which tree the cats until the hunting party arrives. Prime-time hunting happens roughly December to February, while the season runs November 16 through March 31. If you go the DIY route, an out-of-state license will run you $351.

SKI TOWN USA
The other major benefit to hunting west of I-25 is proximity to world-class skiing and snowboarding. If you’re near Meeker or Craig, Steamboat Springs is a few hours away and offers some of the best powder the state has to offer. There’s also Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Loveland, Keystone, Winter Park, Vail and Aspen, among many others. If you’re further south, there’s Telluride, Silverton, Monarch and Durango, while more to the west you’ve got Crested Butte and Powderhorn.

3yotes600Abundant coyotes and lots of public lands should make Colorado a must-see destination for any avid predator hunter.
Driving to your adventure might be the best way to ensure the most hassle-free gear transport and hide handling, but of course flying is an option. If you don’t want to fly into Denver International Airport (DIA), there’s an airport in Hayden, Grand Junction, Aspen and Eagle, each of which provides access to skiing and the northwest part of the state. Keep in mind that it is wintertime, so flights can often get rerouted because of inclement weather. The typical “worst case” scenario, however, isn’t that bad—you’ll generally get sent to Denver where a shuttle bus will take you the remaining couple of hours to your destination.

KICK BACK WITH A BREW TOUR
If you spend any time on the Front Range near Denver, consider tapping into one of the state’s richest resources—craft breweries. The Coors tour in Golden is good, but the real adventure is found by exploring one of the state’s 300 craft breweries, many of which are Denver bound. Among the top experiences, the Boulder Beer Company (in Boulder) was the first craft brewery in the state and serves an amazing variety of award-winning beer. There’s also a pub full of good eats, trivia and occasional live music.

YoteRifle600Few states do winter adventure as well as Colorado. Sure, pack your favorite predator rig, but also consider adding your skis, snowboard, and maybe even your flyfishing gear.
On the larger scale, Breckenridge Brewery (based in Littleton) started out 25 years ago in Breckenridge and is now one of the 50 largest breweries in America. The Farm House restaurant sits adjacent with a menu chock full of ranch-style food, while tours can be scheduled as well. For more of a mountain flavor, check out the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub in Glenwood Springs. It’s got 17 award-winning beers to its name from the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, and the menu is loaded with good eats, including the Canyon Buffalo Burger.

PEAK-TIME HUNTING: FEBRUARY & MARCH
While coyote hunting goes on year round, February and March are the peak times for winter hunting. If you do plan on hunting during big game seasons, make sure you check the Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) website for specific regulations. For instance, it is illegal to hunt small game with a centerfire rifle larger than .23 caliber in regular rifle deer and elk seasons west of I-25, unless you have an unfilled deer or elk license for the season and unit you are hunting. If you are hunting with a smaller caliber, a small game license is required. There is night hunting, too, but you need a special permit for the area you’re hunting. An out-of-state small game license, which includes your furbearer’s license, runs you $56, while a mandatory habitat stamp is another $10.

mouthcalling600When the temps drop, work BLM roads and check fields for ‘yotes as you drive. Try to find places to setup where you can walk over a hillside or ridge without making too much noise.
The weather is also a major factor, so stay abreast with the HuntStand Hunting app. The app is also great for checking out available roads, as well as satellite and terrain views of potential hunting areas, not to mention the app’s indispensable value in determining the wind direction and therefore best setup and access strategies. One reason to avoid a December or January trip is the propensity for extreme cold—several weeks in late December and early January this year were in the -20s and -30s. There can still be good hunting during those conditions, but it limits how much time you’ll actually spend outside the cab of your truck. On the flip side, the rabbits have been out in force, so even if the coyotes aren’t stirring there’s plenty of shooting to be done on the coldest days.

MATCH TACTICS TO THE TERRAIN
Distress calls, like rabbit distress, work well in the wintertime, but it’s also a great time to get your howl on. When the temperatures drop, work BLM roads and check fields for ‘yotes as you drive. Try to find places to setup where you can walk over a hillside or ridge without making too much noise. If there’s deep snow it generally makes for a quieter environment, whereas extreme cold and light snow make for a noisy walk into your set. I’ve even had surprisingly good success walking the brushy, thick bottoms of canyons—you never know what you’ll kick out of there. Try to avoid areas where mountain lion hunters have been through and head out following fresh snow.

YoteBullets600Colorado predator hunting is a bargain; an out-of-state small game license, which includes your furbearer’s license, runs $56, while a mandatory habitat stamp is another $10.
Likewise, most places you’ll setup can also be good for bobcats, so don’t be afraid to use your woodpecker distress call. Before you leave a set, use the ol’ pup distress call, which works wonders. Especially if you’re hunting forested areas or short, narrow draws, it may be a good idea to bring a shotgun along for close encounters of the furry kind.

When you find open country, spend some time glassing. Not only can you pick out predators in the distance and tracks in the snow, giving you a better idea of animal movements, there’s also an incredible variety of other wildlife to take in. There’s elk, big horn sheep and more to be seen, so stop and enjoy the scenery from time to time. Glenwood Canyon along I-70 is a popular place to spot bighorn sheep, sometimes alongside the highway, as is the stretch near Georgetown. Further south, near Salida and the Collegiate Peaks, there’s also plenty of big horn sheep viewing.

CONSIDER A FLYFISHING SIDE-TRIP
Whether you spend most of your time in Denver or in a mountain town, chances are there’s a pretty famous trout stream to fish nearby. February and March are equally good for trout as for coyotes and other critters, especially when the weather is overcast and warmer (in the high 20s or 30s). Key in on tailwaters where the water comes off a dam and is warmer, making for good fishing all year. The South Platte in Denver is good, as is the Frying Pan near Basalt and the Blue River near Silverthorne. In the northwest, stretches of the White River are excellent and the Green (flowing out of Flaming Gorge in Wyoming and Utah) is also superb.

Sunset600Sunset on a prime stretch of Colorado coyote country. Scenes like this, and many more, await those willing to brave the cold and snow and head west for an exciting winter predator adventure.

[READ NOW] WINTER FLYFISHING ADVENTURE: COLORADO

You can get maps from the CPW website, or check out its Colorado Fishing Atlas for regulations and areas with public access. Local fly fishing shops can be your best friend for fishing reports, and most mountain towns near major waters have them. A five-day fishing license for non-residents is only $21, or you can purchase an annual for $56. If you go the guided route, many outfitters will accommodate for either predators or fishing, weather depending. Tad Howard, owner and guide at Colorado Trout Hunters can take you to dozens of places around Denver or deeper into the mountains.

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