Hunting brings healthy harvest for Rifle |

Hunting brings healthy harvest for Rifle

Ryan Hoffman
A mule deer buck creeps along a ridge in east Rifle.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

RIFLE — The past month brought an influx of camouflage-clad guests to town, and with the fourth and final big-game season approaching, some local businesses are reporting a profitable harvest.

“It has been, in my opinion, a salvation,” Gary Miller, owner of Miller’s Dry Goods, said of the added business from hunters in October.

Leading up to the start of first rifle season for elk Oct.10, hunters from across the country flocked to the region with hopes of bagging some big game. Around the start of second rifle season — which in 2014 was the busiest elk season in all eight White River Game Management Units, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife — a more steady stream of hunters were staying at the Comfort Inn south of Interstate 70 in Rifle, according to Mary Bouthiller, general manager at the hotel.

“We have had a lot of hunters,” Bouthiller said.

She estimated 25 to 30 percent of the guests coming in at that time were hunters, which was up from 2014. The guests were from all over the country, including Illinois, Ohio, Mississippi and California.

While the hotel manages to stay busy with people on business trips and others, the hunters were a welcome sight, said Bouthiller.

As second season started, trucks pulling ATVs packed parking lots of businesses near the hotels in south Rifle. That included Rib City, were hunters stopped in to grab a bite to eat, said Shawna McClain, general manager.

“We have seen quite a bit of hunters this year, however, we see them every year,” a busy McClain said.

Not every business has seen a boom from hunters. Edward Wilks, owner of The Tradesmen, said activity seems to be slower than the year before, which was slower than the year before that.

With low gas prices and other costs, Wilks — whose store sells guns, ammunition, supplies and other items — points to controversial gun legislation signed into law in 2013 as the reason for the drop in business and anecdotal decrease in activity. At the time, the laws sparked a backlash among firearm advocates, and media outlets across the country reported on hunters’ plans to boycott the state.

The outrage over those laws has persisted, Wilks said.

“The flat out truth is many hunters have called us and said ‘We used to come up there and we’re not coming any longer,’” he said.

A comparison of data compiled by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the 2012 and 2014 elk season shows somewhat of a mixed bag for the eight White River Game Management Units. For example, GMU No. 23 had 25 more total hunters for second rifle season in 2014 compared with 2012. GMU No. 24 had 103 more total hunters for second rifle season in 2012 than 2014, while GMU No. 12 had 233 more total hunters for second rifle season in 2014 than 2012.

While Wilks reports a continuing decrease in his business, others reported an increase so far in 2015 over 2014.

Strictly from a business perspective, Miller said this year has been stronger than the past several years, however, it has not made up for the slowdown in the oil and gas industry.

Ken Sack, owner of Eagle Springs Meats and Farm Fresh Cafe & Steakhouse, said his business processed more wild game in the first week of 2015’s second season than all of last year. With this being the second year Sack’s business has processed animals, he attributed the uptick to increased knowledge among hunters regarding the quality offered by Eagle Springs Meats, as well as a possible increase in success rates for hunters.

Mark Montgomery, butcher for Eagle Springs Meats, has worked in the area for the past 10 years and said every year he seems to process more and more animals.

Among the hunting destinations across Colorado, Rifle stands out, said Andy Leer, of Hunting Works For Colorado, an organization that promotes economic partnership between the hunting and shooting communities and Colorado’s local economies.

Leer visited Rifle toward the start of first rifle season in October and noticed, among other things, all the bright signs welcoming hunters.

“It was nice to really talk to folks that get it, and every were go is not like that,” he said of the attitude of local business owners. “Certainly (business owners elsewhere) understand that hunting has an effect on the economy, but in Rifle the business owners understand it’s a huge economic jolt to the local economy.”

For Sack, the increase in animal processing has helped fuel increased business at his restaurant, Farm Fresh Cafe & Steakhouse.

“It’s an influx of business for everyone in town. It’s great, it’s great for everyone except for the deer and the elk,” Sack joked.

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