Each year the hills and valleys in this region attract thousands of hunters to Northwest Colorado.
The areas around Oak Creek, Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Craig and Meeker have earned reputations and are home to some of the hottest game management units anywhere in the state.
But John Ellenberger, the big-game manager for the state of Colorado, said hunters need to do their homework if they want to leave this area with a trophy elk or deer.
"A lot of hunters think all you have to do is show up when they draw a hot unit," Hampton said.
"But the hunters who put forth a little effort on the front end normally do a lot better."
Randy Hampton, public information officer for the Division of Wildlife, agreed.
Hampton said the Division of Wildlife's Big Game Hunting guide is a great place for hunters to start, but they shouldn't stop there.
There is plenty of information about last year's harvest and which game management units were the most successful. But there are many outside factors that can twist the figures.
He said hunters who rely on those statistics, without doing any research, might be disappointed even if they happen to draw a projected hot spot.
Hampton suggested a pre-season visit to the area, talking with local ranchers and other hunters to find out vital information that will be important for the hunt.
Maps and numbers will give hunters a feel for how successful they might be, but their eyes and ears will provide information about private property, terrain and how the animals get from one place to another.
Still, some of the information in the Big Game Hunting Guide can help hunters determine the best starting points.
Hampton said Northwest Colorado has been divided into units to help control the elk and deer populations. This information is used each year to determine how many hunting licenses will be issued and for what type of animal.
There are larger units called data analysis units that allow for herd migration and movement. There also is a smaller-game management unit, which helps the DOW control the hunter-to-animal ratio in a specific area.
"We don't want all of the hunters in our state to show up at the same place," Hampton said. "The game-management units help us disperse the hunters across the region."
While the information is gathered to help the DOW better control the herds, it is also important for hunters trying to find big game.
Hunters can apply for a license or draw for a particular area. They also can buy an over-the-counter license that allows them to hunt in all non-restricted areas. Unit restrictions for over-the-counter licenses are listed in the Big Game Hunting Guide.
Hampton said hunters could use the information gathered from the hunting units in different ways.
"Hunters need to look at their unit, but they also need to look at the units around them. If there is a hot unit to the south of them, then they will probably be more successful in the southern corner of their own unit." n