Seeing orange: Hunters fill Rifle rooms, restaurants in search of Colorado’s trophy bulls

A Timberline Sporting Goods customer from North Carolina looks through a spotting telescope on Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Rifle businesses are beginning to brace for an amplified wave of elk bugles and blaze orange over the next few weeks.

Colorado elk hunting enters its second season slated Oct. 29-Nov. 6, with over-the-counter tag sales having started in September. With a limited number of tags drawn for the first season, many people wait until now to hunt the Flat Tops north of Rifle, and they do so by obtaining OTC tags.

Those tags can be purchased at places like Timberline Sporting Goods, owner Paul Kaufmann said.

“This is obviously our busiest time of the year,” he said. “The second and third seasons are both over the counter tags and it’s the biggest.”

Though the number of tags sold so far isn’t available through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department, CPW spokesperson Rachael Gonzales said 30-40% of big game licenses in Colorado will be sold over Thursday and Friday.

Kaufmann said Timberline sold nearly 50,000 OTC bull tags just within the final week leading up to opening day of season two in 2021.

But despite emerging predictions of cold and wet weather positively affecting hunting success rates for seasons two and three this year, Kaufmann said the number of hunters has actually decreased over the past two years.

“When COVID happened, everybody was looking for something to do,” he said. “For 2020 elk and deer (seasons), there were tons of people.”

Ammunition shortages felt during the pandemic, however, continue to be an issue of the past. Kaufmann said it’s the first time in two years Timberline has had a decent quantity of big-game caliber ammunition. This includes more availability of .300 Winchester Magnum, 7mm Remington, .30-06 Springfield cartridges and more.

Bullets or no bullets, bull elk or no bull elk, lodging occupancy rates reported in the Rifle area are mostly full.

Hampton Inn and Suites Rifle clerk Lacey Smith said the hotel’s 92 rooms have been sold out since March. But it’s not just hunters that account for a portion of the bookings.

“We’re getting construction workers, oil workers, hospital people, travelers,” she said. “Just everything.”

Timberline Sporting Goods owner Paul Kaufmann helps customers Wednesday morning.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Hunting season also has a notable impact on local restaurants and shops.

Midland Arts Company in downtown Rifle offers artwork consignments created by up to 50 local artists. If hunting season turns fruitful, more of these works have better chances of being purchased.

Lindsey Johnson, one of the company’s operating partners, said a good hunting season helps its bottom line. But so far, foot traffic has been low.

“We usually do (see more sales),” Johnson said. “But mainly what happens is, guys usually shop at the end of their hunt, and when the women come with their husband while the husband is away hunting.”

Hunters come to Midland Arts anywhere from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Kansas and Maine, Johnson said.

“The guys usually buy jewelry and the women will buy things as a memento — maybe things that would remind them of Rifle,” she said.

WingNutz owner Grady Hazelton said hunters from places like Texas, Wisconsin and Illinois regularly stop by his restaurant whether there’s elk lurking about or not. Some who returning year after year to hunt around Rifle bring gifts like beef jerky as they try their best to deplete the Rifle restaurant’s food and cheap beer supply.

Hazelton said he doesn’t sell more than 10 cans of PBR all year. That is, until seasons two and three of elk hunting roll around.

“We have a lot of the same hunters year after year, and we’re kind of on their radar,” he said. “Busch Light and PBR seem to be popular this time of year.”

Oddly enough, this is the time of year WingNutz’s supply of Rocky Mountain Oysters (fried bull testicles) takes a dinger. WigNutz typically sells about 10 pounds of Rocky Mountain Oysters per week when it’s not hunting season. When the hunters come through the door, that number doubles to 20 pounds of fried oysters per week.

“There’s a boost from hunting season being right around the corner,” Hazelton said. “That’s always good to have.”

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