Do I have your attention now?
It’s not that I’m completely clueless, or that somehow hunting baffles me, or that one day I woke up and all of the years of knowledge and decades of outdoor anecdotes that my relatives have imparted on me had just vacated my cranium. I’ve been hunting in the northeastern United States from Maryland to New York for a little over 20 years chasing grouse, pheasant, whitetail, and other assorted critters. I’ve taken several deer, though becoming a non-resident in PA coupled with antler restrictions forced me to get creative with my methods — balancing tradition of going to the same place for opening day with using my resources to attempt to find new hotspots with less pressure in one of the most pressured states for that quarry.
If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always be what you’ve always been.
This summer my family and I picked up and moved some 1700 miles to Denver where just about everything is different. Land access, altitude, terrain ruggedness, and gear all require new skills that I just don’t seem to have yet. Season opened last Saturday for most of the birds I want to chase, just weeks after I even found all of my blaze orange — not even required in Colorado for hunting small game. I’m in the land of elk, moose, and muley hunters wanting to chase woodcock, blue grouse, and ptarmigan. Not that I’m against big game hunting at all, I’ve managed to draw non-resident tags for Pronghorn in Wyoming this year.
Land access issues in the west are an interesting challenge to say the least. While I paid lip service as a member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to the western issues and vaguely understood the multiple land ownership melange of BLM, State Lane, National Forest, Wilderness Areas, and other out here, it wasn’t until I started looking for places to hunt a little over an hour from Denver that I realized that this was going to be a learning experience. Last weekend I noticed there were public land pronghorn tags left over just a half hour from my door, so I fired up OnXMaps and checked some other data sources only to find that sure, while there were 14 tags left, there was no land I could legally hunt on, despite Colorado being something like 68 percent public! I do need to work for a living, despite my barrage on Facebook and Instagram of “Fridays are for adventuring” as I get to know my new backyard, so it keeps me close to the Eastern side of E470, closer to the prairie than the mountains, that’s a first world problem I’ll gladly deal with since the pay helps fund all of my adventures. Land ownership isn’t the only issue I’m dealing with out here. After unpacking my plastic totes of equipment that served me so well back east I’m finding some of it might just not be as relevant out here.
I’ve taken a look at my gear and realized that there are some significant changes that need to be made. I’ve been a car-camper my entire life, but if you spend one hour in any bar out here frequented by climbers, backpackers, and hunters alike you’ll realize that just about everyone seems to have some sort of backpacking experience and backcountry experience. Sure, I’ve pooped in the woods, and spend a ton of time there, but never have I lugged my camp on my back for any real period of time. My lightest Coleman stove is probably a four pound single burner, and my largest pack is at best a two or three day pack. I have both a lot to learn and a lot to change about my hunting style in order to succeed out here. I’ve been egged on by some of my Twitter followers, and based on some of the more seasoned veteran hunters I’ve met through my travels, they all seem to agree that if you can successfully hunt and fish in Pennsylvania, you have the core knowledge and drive to succeed anywhere.
For my wife, dogs, and I this will be a long term adventure — a rebuilding year as we get out almost every weekend and take on acclimatization hikes to attempt to build our legs and lungs to hiking at altitude. Considering we’re coming from essentially a place where we lived at 15 feet above sea level, and I’d like to hunt ptarmigan before the season closes, the little brown and white footballs with wings live at approximately 13,000 ft above sea level amongst boulder fields that will be no small feat. I think though that we’re up for the challenge, and every new tidbit I learn I look forward to sharing here with you so that there’s a little more in the communal junk drawer of hunting knowledge on the Internet for eastern hunters looking to go west, or people just getting started.