More and more hunters, weary of crowds and cold nights or looking for a new challenge, are trading in their rifles and muzzleloaders for bows and arrows.
Experts say bow hunting continues to grow in popularity and a lot of it has to do with the fact that archery season -- Aug. 28 to Sept. 26 -- takes place during one of the balmiest and most beautiful months of hunting season.
Archery season also starts a good month before any rifle hunters take to the forests, a big perk for solitary-minded hunters who prefer not to run into big hunting camps or other hunters, said Tyler Baskfield, a Denver-based public information specialist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a bow hunter.
"You tend to feel like you're much more a part of the natural environment," he said.
Bow hunting encourages a more interactive experience with the animals, since bow hunters can be no more than 40 to 50 feet away from an animal for a successful shot, compared with up to 500 feet for rifle hunters, Baskfield said.
"It really is an accomplishment to go out and harvest a deer or elk with a bow ... it's not a fluke thing," said Baskfield, who recommended bow hunters practice every day for at least a month before hunting season.
In 2003, the DOW issued about 4,000 bow hunting licenses for deer and about 12,000 archery licenses for elk hunting in Northwest Colorado, said Randy Hampton, DOW public information specialist for the region.
In game management unit 14, which runs east of Steamboat and north almost to Wyoming, 5 percent of bow hunters harvested deer, compared with about 45 percent of rifle hunters last year, Hampton said.
Overall, roughly 15 percent to 25 percent of bow hunters in Northwest Colorado will successfully harvest a deer or elk, he estimated.
The low success rate of bow hunting, however, doesn't seem to prevent bow hunters from returning to the field, year after year.
"For me, it's the hunt, not the harvest," said Al Tuck of Steamboat, who is a regional representative of the Colorado Bow Hunters Association and an avid bow hunter. "If you get something, that's a good story to tell, but it's more about the challenge and being out there."
As with all hunting, it's important to stick with good ethics and take only quality shots," he said.
"That's what makes the challenge -- the closer the better. Don't be tempted to take long shots from bad angles," Tuck said.
Ideally, hunters want to aim for the animals' heart and lungs, just behind the shoulder blade. If the arrow pierces the right spot, the animal won't even know it was hit, Baskfield said.
A very general rule of thumb is that if an archer can put five of six arrows into a six-inch diameter plate from 30 yards away, they are ready to hunt, he said.
Another key aspect of bow hunting is calling, which plays a more important role in bow hunting season when bull elk gather their harems by calling to cow elk. Imitating these calls to attract elk can be "an art form," Tuck said.
Another reason for the rising popularity of bow hunting is the quality of equipment, which is considerably better than 20 years ago, and allows for quicker progression in the sport, Tuck said.
But while some bow hunters may opt for the ultra-modern compound bows and carbon fiber arrows, real traditionalists build their own bows and arrows, Baskfield said.
To ensure bow hunting remains a skill-based sport, the DOW restricts the types of arrows and equipment hunters may use. A new restriction this year stipulates that bows cannot have attached scopes or battery-operated equipment.
Safety is just as important for bow hunters as rifle hunters, said Baskfield, noting that a broad-headed arrow is like three razor blades on a stick and is deadly.
A bow hunter in Colorado last year died after piercing an artery in his leg with an arrow, he said. n