If you're interested in exploring a fee hunting enterprise, there's no better place to look for examples than Colorado. In fact, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), three-fourths of all Colorado ranches with huntable acres provide some level of trespass fee hunting.
Rancher Warren Gore and his family, Glade Park, CO, are no exception. They've been in the fee hunting game since the 1950s. Located in western Colorado, the Gores specialize in big game - elk, deer, mountain lion and bear. Because of their high mountain location, nearly 10,000 ft., they can provide the wildlife and spectacular scenery that draws hunters from California to Florida.
"They (hunters) come here and it's not only a recreation experience, but a vacation. They like the idea of being on a working ranch," says Gore. "Most of the guys come from big cities and big corporate jobs and just want to get away. Once they get here, they fall in love with the country view."
Besides the panorama, Gore says, "You need to provide a quality hunt. That's what will keep them coming back year after year."
Typically, he claims their 700-cow ranch generates 10-15% in extra revenue a year with the hunting enterprise. For that, Gore spends about a month preparing and guiding. The downside to the venture, though, is that most hunts are in late October and early November, when they're moving cattle down the mountain and sorting.
"We depend on the hunting business to supplement our ranch income, especially during a down cattle cycle," Gore says.
Charging For Wildlife At any one time, he estimates that the ranch is home to more than 400 elk, plus mule deer, mountain lion and bear. From a hunting perspective, though, big bull elk are the ultimate trophy and where the big money is.
Hunting fees vary depending on what menu of services Gore needs to supply. In general, however, a guided bull elk hunt will run from $4,000 per hunter up to $8,000. That includes five to seven days of hunting, lodging and food. For a guided deer hunt with potential for a buck, the price runs $2,000-3,000 per hunter. Some ranchers in the area also add on a trophy fee for a bigger, Boone-Crockett-scored animal.
"There's no guarantee a hunter will get an elk or deer," Gore explains. "In fact, if they shoot a big elk one year, they may not even shoot another one for two or three years and still be satisfied. Often, hunters refuse to shoot anything unless it's pretty outstanding.
"If you can show hunters lots of game and provide them with decent shots, they're happy," Gore says.
Hardly Roughing It Gore's lodge, more like a house, was built in 1981 for $110,000 and has four bedrooms and three baths. It's heated, has a fireplace and electricity is provided by a generator now housed in the original cabin built in the 1920s.
Talk about scenery and plenty of it. If you drive from one end of the ranch to the other, you'll put on nearly 40 miles. The higher country area, where most of the hunting occurs, is mostly accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. However, if hunters want to use horses for the real back areas and canyons, Gore will provide that, too. Besides BLM and Forest Service lands, the Gores also have 18,000 deeded acres.
"You can work these hunts about a dozen different ways," he says. "You can provide all the groceries, a guide for every couple of hunters and their vehicles. But, you have some groups that do their own cooking and prefer their own vehicles. It really varies by group."
Currently, the Gores have reduced the number of hunters to 18 to provide a higher-quality hunt. "We want to bring in smaller numbers of hunters and charge them a little more," he says. That means they're now able to provide a higher buck-to-doe and bull-to-cow ratio.
Safety Ranks High Like most fee hunting enterprises, safety is a big concern for the Gores. "We insist on good hunters and don't want any accidents or safety concerns," Gore says. "Frankly, I'm at risk when I'm out with these guys. If someone isn't toeing the line, or drinking while they're hunting, he won't be back."
In case of accidents, hunters are required to sign a waiver to release the Gores from liability. In addition, however, the Gores carry an umbrella liability policy on the entire ranch in case of injuries. Warren also is certified for CPR and first aid, and is a registered outfitter in Colorado.
The Gores, like many of their neighbors, are now involved in the Colorado Ranching for Wildlife program, which began in 1986. Currently, there are 24 ranches involved statewide.
As part of that program, the Gores work at enhancing habitat areas, like cutting brush and fertilizing meadows for wildlife grazing.
In return, the Colorado DOW allows ranchers more flexibility in their hunting season and issues a guaranteed number of game permits. A big plus for ranchers, says John Seidel, statewide coordinator for Ranching for Wildlife, is that the extended season includes the elk rut - a premium hunting time.
The program requires a minimum of 12,000 acres to enroll. Ranchers can even form groups to meet the minimum numbers of acres, Seidel says. Ranchers must also submit a wildlife enhancement management plan that's evaluated every three years.
"For getting that flexibility and guaranteed permits from the program, we then agree to have a 10-day public hunt," Gore says. "It's a real specified hunt with a certain number of hunters allowed on the ranch. It's tightly controlled."
Gore says that several ranches in his area are now basing their whole management philosophy on wildlife promotion and habitat enhancement. "They're trying to make that go hand-in-hand with livestock management," he adds.
Another benefit of the program is that it encourages landowners to get involved in wildlife management. Gore says, "that's a good thing." Too often, he adds, the landowners and the DOW are at odds with each other.
The program has been "pretty successful," Seidel admits. "We've seen tremendous changes in rancher attitudes. For a lot of the ranchers, elk are no longer considered a pest."
For more information about Colorado's Ranching for Wildlife program, contact John Seidel, statewide coordinator, at 970/963-1976. l