SOUTH FORK — The west side of the San Luis Valley is home to some of the most sought-after hunting units in Colorado and with that comes a growing hunter population that visits each fall. Though the San Luis Valley as a whole offers plentiful hunting opportunities, first, second and third rifle seasons are the most popular bringing in hundreds, if not thousands, of hunters every year.
“This year is shaping up to be a decent year — good summer moisture means good vegetation and water sources. Of course, Mother Nature certainly will play a role, as we move into the fall as well as the timing of snow which is key to a hunter’s success as we move into rifle seasons. The colder the weather the easier it is to access big game animals as they move down from higher elevations to feed,” stated District Wildlife Manager Jeremy Gallegos.
As far as whether or not there are any changes to the coming big game rifle season Gallegos explains that, “Hunters should always read the big game brochure to make sure there hasn't been any changes to the area they are interested in hunting. This year there hasn't been any big changes this year for the western part of the Valley. We recommend hunters look at the halfway points between the motorized trails and roads. Animals will move to those areas typically to get away from the noise the vehicles and OHV's make. Be prepared to walk into some more rugged country but may have a better chance for success.”
It is also important to know hunter safety laws and regulations prior to heading out on a hunt as Southwest Region Public Information Officer John Livingston explains, “One thing we'd really like to stress is the importance of Hunter Education and remembering those lessons taught in Hunter Ed, particularly the key point of 'if you are not 100 percent sure of your target and what's beyond, do not aim and do not shoot.'"
The basic firearm rules can help prevent injuries or death: Treat every firearm as if it's loaded, don't point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to shoot, keep the finger off the trigger until a hunter is on target and ready to shoot, and always be 100% sure of the target and what is beyond. Hunters need to make sure they have the appropriate maps, especially when it comes to OHV use. Officers have responded to some complaints, and these violations could have been avoided if hunters had done a little homework.
Going toward the Saguache area, hunters travel into southwestern Colorado’s most hunted area in units 68, 67 and 66. These three units are where most hunters venturing to southwestern Colorado end up with limited tags sold in each area. The terrain is wide, grassy valleys that lead into dense forests at the base of the La Garita, San Juan and Elks mountain ranges. Herd numbers for large game are diminishing in the areas and this has caused some frustration among hunters.
On the other side of the La Garita Mountains, is a once in a lifetime hunting unit, only open to those who have accumulated enough points on their hunting licenses and should be hunted by only the most experienced hunters, due to the terrain. Unit 76 in Mineral County is a very secluded, minimum access area that has a minimal number of roads. Several who come to the area hunt the area on foot, leaving behind modern-day vehicles for the more primitive outlook to hunting in the area.
The Valley consists of two other hunting units that are located between the two units mentioned above. Units 79, 80, 81, 82 and 83 that cover Conejos, Rio Grande, Alamosa and Costilla counties. These units take people into the lower peaks on the southern side of the Valley and into some historic mining areas. The terrain is steep, with high peaks and dense pine forests that have not yet seen the effects of the spruce bark beetle like the western side of the Valley.
For more information visit www.cpw.state.co.us.