Private versus public hunting

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One of the many choices hunters face during planning is whether to hunt on private or public land.

Each option has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, depending on what the hunter is looking for.

Public hunting is available on federally managed lands and state lands that have been leased by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Private lands generally are owned by outfitters, ranchers and farmers.

No matter where a hunter decides to go, he or she must have a license. Public lands are divided into areas, and licenses must be applied for before the season. There is an annual lottery that allots licenses for different areas throughout Northwest Colorado.

Private-land hunters can apply for licenses before the hunting season, but they also can purchase over-the-counter licenses that don't come with a designated area.

Because public land is open to anybody, there often is more hunting done in those areas. Even the 1.5 million acres in Moffat County can get a little crowded.

"It's common to see at least a few other hunting parties on public land," said Ned Miller, sportsman information specialist for the Craig Chamber of Commerce. "There is more competition for game."

Even with competition through the early season, yields traditionally are greater on public than private land because of several reasons.

"Early in the hunting seasons, the animals are at higher elevation," said Darby Finley, a wildlife biologist at the Division of Wildlife's Meeker office. "Since most of the higher elevation is public land, that's where the harvest tends to be."

As cooler weather and storms come in, they force most animals to lower elevations. A high concentration of hunters in higher elevations in the early season also send game down.

"Every animal is different so that's not always the case," Miller said. "Deer are likely to stay within a mile of where they are. The elk are the ones that migrate, but they don't always migrate after the first storm."

Miller said some hunters swear by going out in December because that is when the second group of game starts to migrate to lower elevations.

When hunting on either type of land, Miller and Finley said it is important for a hunter to do his homework.

"They need to know the boundaries between different private lands and public lands," Finley said. "It's best to take a topographical map along to guide the trip."

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