Campers With Guns–How Big Game Hunting Has Changed

Many hunters will tell you they do not ROAD HUNT.  These hunters don’t think road hunting is sporting or hunting–but they may be fudging!  Hunting for many manly men is a yearly ritual to get out with the guys drink beer, eat well, tell stories and lie. It is a guy bonding thing and most of the time even unsuccessful hunts are considered a success thanks to the companionship. BUT, things are a changing. And for the guy reading this that thinks hunting is just mean, or is anti Second Amendment, etc, please just to keep from having a stroke–stop here. For the rest of us…today’s ATV hunters are now turning the entire hunting area into road hunting and it is lowering game harvest numbers overnight–read on.


Big game hunting has changed in Colorado where we go to hunt–and the same applies to several other states–for the worse. We will focus on Colorado for this though since it is where we go to spend way too much money or our out of state licenses, etc.and we feel has seen the most dramatic changes in almost everything in the last few years whether it is drugs, sanctuary cities, hunting, politics, firearm issues, etc. and one can just keep going.

For example, Colorado once had large herds of mule deer and even elk, well most mountain western states did. But Colorado’s abysmal mismanagement of the big game in that state over some 50 years and how animals are hunted has depleted the deer population so greatly that the state has more elk than deer and the harvest reflects that too.

To elk hunters that sounds great, but the numbers of elk inflated by the game management of the state is not impressive.

There once was a time when one could take an elk on the edge of the treeline in most areas if cooler temperatures allowed them to move down–elk like the cooler temperatures and are the last to leave the high country for warmer grazing. Elk will generally bed down on the south facing of mountains to catch a few rays. When it really starts to get cold and snowy, they will move down a couple thousand feet but will still generally hang on the south side of the hill.

So what has happened to hunting? Hunters themselves in conjunction with state regulations have basically changed hunting in Colorado and many other states. On public lands it looks like all out military operations. All terrain vehicles (ATVs) are everywhere, literally everywhere. If you have a good old four wheel drive Jeep you are now driving a battle ship and are restricted from trails that have a width restriction that allows ATVs only.

The ATVs (or rapid personnel carriers we call them) are allowed to penetrate deep into the mountains and even into the black forest areas where the elk try to live and hide.

No one walks now. Hunters drive the ATVs into once hard to reach areas areas then the hunter may dismount to walk in a short distance to try to run down an elk for a shot. By the way, when a deer takes off it may run 50 or 100 yards then stop and look back to see what is up. When an elk takes off it is for hundreds of yards or more and they don’t look back! They really are a different animal.

But elk do not put up with noisy invaders in their area, and ATVs are noisy and smelly too

! Deer leave the high colder country much earlier than elk, and with less deer to begin with the harvest numbers in Colorado suck–regardless of the “wonderful” and we think quite bogus numbers the Colorado Department of Wildlife (DOW) may publish.

Hah! Deer and elk are so stupid they will never see or hear me coming…


So when hundreds of ATVs move into just one or two public land hunting areas (and they do) the elk leave, they are not stupid animals. They like any other animal including humans will first try to go deeper into the forest or their natural security area. But the ATVs are now allowed to reach up to or haul hunters to those locations. The elk can tell where it is safe; they know and they will go where the ATVs are not present and they will communicate this to their fellow elk buddies too and anyone who does not believe that, is an idiot–they communicate.

Where is this magical area where no ATVs are present? Private property, federal and state restricted parks and areas where hunting is prohibited. Hunters on ATVs are simply driving the elk much like old time drovers herded cattle only now it is in to private lands where there are no or few ATVs and no hunting for the public–without shelling out some serious private land hunting money.

Okay guys, let’s leave the ATV party and go where it is safe. Credit: Arizona Game and Fish

Even quiet ATVs are incredibly noisy and disturbing to an animal with ten inch long ears and use to normal forest noises and armed with a nose that can smell underarm deodorant a half mile away let alone the ethanol loaded obnoxious exhaust fumes that proceed the ATV road hunter when carried on the slightest of breeze. Make no mistake, any elk or deer that is over 2 years of age knows when the hunting season opens as they pick up on the noise, movement and scent–the invasion is on–and they know when humans are up there in numbers–they can get killed.

When we all watch those hunting shows on television we see the hunters (most pretty famous or well known celebrities or gun writers) taking out great game and trophies at times. How are they different from what we have just described?

Well, first most of those guys are on private property generally comped to them by the land owner wanting more business and getting on the show as national exposure brings in the money. Or they and the filming crew are paid or are on fully paid hunting trips by the various gun, optics ammunition and supply companies who are providing the transportation, guns, ammunition and other gear for that writer or personality to be seen using (a great form of editorial sponsored advertising by the way).

First, private hunts like that for the rest of us can cost up to $10,000+ for a nice elk. Second, those paying to hunt on private property generally have a guide. Third, they are walking–have you noticed? They are actually hunting–you will NOT see many of them on ATVs cruising the hills in these television hunt shows.

Mule deer and elk are a lot different from the bunny rabbit numbers of white tail deer. Hunting Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and other Rocky Mountain states is much different from white tail eastern, south and mid west state type hunting where deer can be easily harvested from a tree stand or out in an apple orchard a short distance from a house and with a shotgun. We know, we’ll catch some heat for that!–but it is the truth–so be nice to us.

Too much noise, I’m out of here!  Credit: wikipedia

But when we watch the so called harvest coming off of a Colorado area after five days of hunting that sees just a couple elk harvested in a large area occupied with enough hunters to create a significant in force military movement, we get curious. In one famed Western Colorado area allegedly packed with legal to shoot elk we talked to at least 100 ATV equipped hunters and only saw one smallish elk harvested in that whole heavy forested area.

We were the only ones without an ATV over those days in which there were we estimate 300 hunters in a 12 by 8 mile area and all had motorized vehicles, most with ATVs, even some trail bikes and a couple of jeeps and a few tough pickups operated by suicidal drivers in areas that were seemingly impossible to reach, but they did-noise and pollution and all.

But the bottom line was–they were all road hunting and running the animals out of this non-season generously elk populated area. We saw only one smallish elk harvested and yet when the( department of wildlife or game and fish, etc.) Colorado’s DOW numbers are published we can guarantee you they will say over 120 elk were taken from that area in each of the three five day seasons.

Why do that?  Well, the DOW in any state is a state bureaucracy that depends on license money to keep the DOW staff, executives paid; they need the money and they are running a government business (an oxymoron). The real money is getting a bunch of out of state hunters shelling out $600 for an elk license; it helps pay the bills. But we talked to at least 100 hunters this year (2017) who felt they were lied to and consider what they were involved in was simply “camping with guns.”

Quiet scouting showed these areas were recently full of elk before the motorized blitzkrieg began. Walking back a couple hundred yards into the forest area near the ATV trails we saw staggering amounts of elk sign and no wonder, it was dense dark, lots of easy feed and there was free flowing water everywhere. The area had literally staggering amounts of sign (tracks, droppings, bed down patches, bark worn logs everywhere in the forest). But no elk–due to the ATV assault they had recently left. Bottom line is no hunter had even seen one elk anywhere-because they had been sound and smell driven out to safer places–private property and parks!

But the elk are there, they have just been driven on to private and restricted state or federal property by the Mostly ATV road hunters who now can go up small trails that were once accessible only by walking or horseback. The day of elk popping out on the tree line ON PUBLIC PROPERTY are gone wherever ATV road and trail hunters are present.

Only the DOW and forest service of the various states can change this and until they do (Colorado the worse we think, so we will hit Wyoming next year), the numbers of disappointed hunters both locally and especially those out of state traveling hundreds of miles with thousands of dollars worth of gear (including multi-thousand dollar ATVs of course) who are paying big bucks for licenses not to see a single elk during a whole season will stop coming–unless they can afford private elk hunts. For the rest of us it is just getting to be no fun to be a camper with a gun.

 English: Challenger 1 at tankfest 2009…then again, next year we may try something different! First, we will get rid of the ATVs... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Disclaimer to avoid death threats: It is important that the reader understand that we DO NOT hate or even dislike ATVs–Honest! It is just a simple fact that the use of any means to quickly move hunters by noisy and odoriferous vehicles that can penetrate deep into the forest will drive the animals away from that area and into safe areas (especially in the first of any hunting season)–elk and deer are NOT stupid, they really will leave for safer areas and they know where those areas are!

Think of it like this–it is the same as if an invasion of heavily armed fast moving loud and smelly military vehicles were after us in our own neighborhoods–we are getting the hell out of there! The animals (including us) will go to wherever those things aren’t present. In the case of the animals–on to private and state and federal restricted property until the hunt is over, then they will come back. We just put too much pressure on them anymore.


Let’s hear from you…


1 comment for “Campers With Guns–How Big Game Hunting Has Changed

  1. tom claycomb
    November 30, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    I know what you’re saying. I use mine to get somewhere to hike into the backcountry. It’s frustrating when you just get there and here comes some bozo on a 4wheeler that’s too lazy to walk. But it’s frustrating too when you do things right and F&G over reacts and blocks areas to any 4wh use. It doesn’t have to be a swing to either side of the pendulum. Limit it some but not all. Also, some states allow you to ride in from something like 11:00-1:00 to retrieve your game. That way it doesn’t screw up other people’s hunt. Doesn’t alleviate from your point about scaring them out of the area though. Summary-yes, there is some abuse but F&G uses those complaints as an excuse to lock up “their land”.

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