Variety of hunting experiences available

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From self-guided hunts on private land to a full-service trip with guides, posh lodges and gourmet food, there are a variety of options available to hunters looking for an exclusive hunting experience.

Larry Bishop offers trespass-fee hunting on private land he owns and leases on nine ranches throughout Moffat and Routt counties. He started his business, Rocky Mountain Ranches, 12 years ago in response to requests from hunters looking for a quality place to hunt without crowds.

"There's so much competition on public land," Bishop said. "Even if you pack in 10 miles you'll run into people."

Bishop's customers pay between $1,000 and $1,900 to hunt elk, deer and pronghorn antelope in areas ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 acres.

The trips last five to six days, and prices depend on the hunting method, the animal hunters hope to kill and whether hunters use campsites or trailers on the land.

Guided trips are available, though Bishop specializes in do-it-yourself non-guided hunts.

Although the hunts take place on private land, hunters must have Colorado hunting licenses since they are hunting wild game.

Limited numbers of hunters may hunt on the properties at one time, and trips usually book up to a year in advance, Bishop said.

Most of his clients are returning, working-class hunters from out of state looking for value for their money, he said.

About three miles south of Milner, the Iacovetto family offers full-service guided trips, as well as home-cooked meals and accommodations, at Saddleback Ranch.

The family has provided guided hunts on 7,200 acres of their private land for almost six seasons.

Before that, they offered trespass-fee hunts but found that hunters ran the game too much and didn't respect the land, said Justin Iacovetto, who guides with his father and brother.

With only six hunters on the property at one time, there is one guide to every two hunters. So far, hunters have enjoyed a 100-percent success rate at Saddleback Ranch.

When they are not scouring the land for deer and elk, hunters fish for trout or relax in a 4,000-square-foot rustic yet modern lodge, which serves as hunters' sleeping quarters and dining area.

For $3,800, hunters enjoy five days of guided hunting, three "extremely good" meals and transportation to and from the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, Iacovetto said.

Iacovetto's clients are mostly from out of state and range from hunters with their own private jets to working-class folks who return every other year.

"They tell me their vacation for the year is the hunt. They save all year to do it," he said.

Straddling the Colorado Wyoming border is Three Forks Ranch, a working cattle ranch offering hunters a premier hunting experience on 50,000 acres of private land in Colorado.

Depending on the animal hunters hope to harvest -- antelope are the least expensive, elk the most -- hunters pay between $3,250 and $6,750 for a six night, five day stay at the ranch.

Included in the price are guided hunts, with one guide for every two hunters, luxury private rooms and five-star dining with continental breakfast and menus, as well as shuttles from the airport.

The ranch was booked full for this hunting season four months ago, and it is already two-thirds booked for the 2005 season, general manager Jay Linderman said.

About 75 percent of clients are returning customers and most are from the east coast. Clients, whose ages average around 55, enjoy the ranch because of the amenities and convenience it offers. Some bring their wives, who enjoy the nice accommodations and shuttled shopping trips in Steamboat, Linderman said.

"Some of these guys are beyond the point of riding horses 10 miles into wilderness. They want to be taken care of and pampered," he said.

About 95 percent of hunters harvest an animal on the land, which is managed in conjunction with Colorado's Ranching for Wildlife program.

Under the program, the ranch works to increase and improve wildlife habitat while maintaining a healthy balance between agriculture and healthy wildlife herds.

In exchange, the state allows three full months of hunting on the ranch and guarantees hunters receive a license.

In addition, the ranch offers free, guided trips for Colorado hunters at the end of the season, usually mid-October. The hunters are selected in a drawing in April.

Twenty-six Colorado ranches participate in the program and have the drawings.

The program's benefits have been apparent in the health of the herds. The late-season Colorado hunters help cull the herd of cows, which results in fewer late-season births and a healthier calf crop, Linderman said.

With fewer elk, the deer have more territory and ultimately produce more bucks, he said. n

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