More than moose

Walden overlooked as big game destination

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Walden is known as the "Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado." The moose seen here was crossing U.S. Highway 40 near Rabbit Ears Pass, not in Walden.

When people think of Walden, they think moose.

The small community and county seat of sparsely populated Jackson County is known as the "Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado," because of the high elevation (8,000 feet) and valley floor conditions that cater to the largest moose population in Colorado. What people often overlook is that the five game management units of Jackson County, referred to regionally as North Park, are also home to sizable numbers of elk and deer.

Although Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said the delicious taste of moose meat combined with the 80 percent success rate makes moose hunting a popular practice, he is quick to point out that opportunities are limited. With an estimated population of 637, the DOW is only issuing 90 moose licenses for North Park this year.

Fortunately, North Park's natural topography - a broad valley of sagebrush, grasslands and pastures bounded by the Park Range to the west, the Rabbit Ears Range to the south and the Medicine Bow Mountains to the east - provides hunters with endless chances to hunt game in the high Alpine elevations early season and then down to the basin floor in the fall's later seasons.

Dell Bean, owner of Black Elk Outfitters, said elk can be found in any of the units but that GMU 16 is the best. On the west side of North Park, the areas in GMU 16 within the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area are open only to non-motorized access. They are tremendously popular during the archery season, which starts for elk on Aug. 26.

Bean also said that GMU 16 and 17 are prime hunting for deer of exceptional, trophy sizes.

"We've got healthy (deer) herd populations." Bean said. "The easy winters have a lot to do with it. The last severe winter kill was in 1993."

A number of outfitters such as Black Elk operate in North Park, allowing clients to hunt on leased private land. They maintain that the best hunting is to be found on private land as lower temperatures push herds to lower elevations and across valley property lines.

Hampton reminds hunters that two-thirds of North Park is still public land and that as the 7,000 estimated deer move north with the seasons, patient hunters can find their prize buck in good areas such as the Sand Dunes, Sheep Mountain, Delaney Butte, Mexican Ridge, Owl Mountain and particularly on Independence Mountain.

"When it comes to big game in Northwest Colorado, a lot of people think about the areas in White River National Forest by Meeker and in Moffat County past Craig and overlook North Park," Hampton said. "But the locals there love hunting, and people that discover the resource certainly go back."

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