GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado - Colorado is in the midst of its main hunting seasons and hundreds of thousands of hunters are in the field enjoying the vast opportunities offered by the state's abundant wildlife. As the seasons progress, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds every hunter that good judgment and ethical behavior are critical to ensure a safe and successful hunting experience.
The wildlife agency says that more than 250,000 hunters enjoy the big game seasons in the state each year, adding billions of dollars annually to the state's tourism economy. Based on the number of incidents versus the overall number of hunters, it appears that the vast majority are careful in the field. However, officers say that even one incident of carelessness is too many.
"We ask for 100 percent compliance," said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. "Because of the serious consequences of an accident, avoiding this kind of mistake entirely should be every hunter's primary goal."
The reminder was prompted by several incidents of hunters shooting the wrong game during the first part of the main hunting seasons this year, including moose that have been mistakenly shot by elk hunters and at least one case of a hunter that shot a mule deer he believed was an elk.
"Every hunter should know that if they are not 100 percent certain about the target, do not pull that trigger," continued Velarde. "It is a serious concern that some hunters are either unable to properly identify their target, or are simply too impatient to take a responsible shot."
Wildlife managers say that accidents usually involve a combination of poor judgment, low-light conditions, a long-distance view of the animal and not using a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope.
"A serious hunter understands the importance of good optics," said Dean Riggs, assistant regional manager in the Northwest Region. "In some of these incidents, it is likely that the use of a binoculars or a spotting scope could have helped the hunter identify their target."
Riggs advises that using a rifle scope only to identify a potential target may not give the best view of the animal and its surroundings, and it could create a situation where the hunter points his or her rifle at someone's pet, livestock, or in the worst-case scenario, another hunter.
"A hunter that points his rifle at a person can face serious consequences, even if it is by accident," said Riggs. "It's just not safe to point a firearm at anything you don't intend to shoot."
Wildlife officers stress that before a novice heads into the field, being able to identify the animal they are hunting is an important step. For the experienced hunter, being patient and avoiding assumptions based on prior experience is critical. For everyone in the field, a good tip is to study the entire animal - from its head to its hindquarters - before taking the shot.
The penalties for shooting the wrong game can be serious. Wildlife officers say that if a hunter compounds the accident by abandoning the carcass and failing to report the incident, they could face felony charges, several thousand dollars in fines, the permanent loss of hunting privileges in Colorado and 37 other states that participate in the national Wildlife Violator Compact, and possible imprisonment.
Hunters that mistakenly kill the wrong animal are urged to immediately field dress the animal and contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife as soon as possible. Wildlife officers will seize the animal and donate the meat. Officers will take prompt reporting into consideration when assessing penalties.
Anyone who sees suspicious activity in the field are asked to contact a local district wildlife manager, or Operation Game Thief, toll-free at (877) COLO-OGT (265-6648). Callers contacting the tip line remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to a poacher.