By Alan Peterson
San Juan Mountains Association
Hunting is a wonderful way to enjoy the beautiful public lands in Southwest Colorado. But to keep it beautiful, remember to be a “Leave No Trace” hunter. Follow these LNT principles when searching for that special buck or bull:
Plan ahead and prepare
San Juan Mountains Association reminds hunters to visit one of the local San Juan Public Lands offices to gather information about their hunt. Offices are in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Dolores and Bayfield. You also can call 247-4874 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions about the Hunting Proclamation, licenses or obtaining a Hunter Safety Card, call Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 247-0855.
Planning ahead and preparing will help ensure a quality hunting experience and your safety. Take a required hunter-safety course. Read and follow all hunting regulations. Obtain and display proper tags and licenses. Obey bag and possession limits.
Hunting also means preparing with proper gear and clothing. Always keep your hands and feet dry and warm. Wear 500 square inches of blaze orange. Carry a good map, GPS, cellphone, extra food and clothing, a signal mirror and a first aid kit.
Get permission to hunt on private lands. Respect all road closures. Use a map and compass to navigate. Maps are available at the San Juan Public Lands offices or online at www.sjma.org.
Travel and camp on durable surfaces
San Juan National Forest has many developed campgrounds open for your use during rifle season that are either free or at a reduced fee. If you camp outside of a developed campground, use previously impacted areas that are 200 feet from lakes, ponds and streams to protect riparian areas.
In the San Juans, camping in any one location is limited to 14 days. If you want to stay up to an additional 14 days, you must move your camp greater than a 3-mile radius on the San Juan National Forest and 30 air miles on the BLM Tres Rios lands.
Keep vehicles within 300 feet of Forest System roads. Check posted signs for additional information.
Good campsites are found, not made. Site alterations are not necessary. Help protect the land by using a high line, hobble or picket to restrain stock, and always use tree-saver straps. It’s also important to tie stock at least 200 feet from any source of water.
San Juan National Forest motorized travel rules continue to change. Pick up a free MVUM (Motorized Vehicle Use Map), which shows current open roads and trails designations for any type of motorized vehicle (also viewable online at www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan).
Those traveling by ATV, UTV or dirt bike are required to be registered in Colorado. Even if your off-highway vehicle (OHV) is registered in another state, you still are required to purchase a Colorado OHV Permit sticker. Registrations cost $25.25 and are available at San Juan Public Land offices, Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices, as well as local OHV dealers.
Dispose of waste properly
“If you pack it in,” make sure you “pack it out.” You should only burn trash that will be completely consumed. Foil, cans and glass do not burn and must be packed out. Do not bury them.
Inspect your campsite for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, spent brass and shotgun shells. Gut piles are unsightly and attract bears. Drag piles well away from trails, water sources and highly visited areas.
Dig a cat hole 6 to 8 inches deep for solid human waste at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cat hole when finished and pack out used toilet paper. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater, and pack out food scraps.
Leave what you find
Preserve the past by not touching or taking cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
Sight-in firearms at home or 150 yards away from hunting or occupied areas. Do not use rocks, signs, trees or nongame animals for target practice.
If you use horses, help prevent the spread of noxious weeds; federal regulations require that you use only certified weed-free hay, straw, mulch, cube or pelletized feed, or steam-rolled grain for feed while on public lands to avoid introducing or transporting non-native plant species and seeds.
Use manufactured blinds rather than constructing them out of tree branches or other native vegetation. Do not build structures or furniture, or dig trenches.
Minimize campfire impacts
Stoves often are the best option because campfires, and fire rings can scar the backcountry. If you must build a fire, use established fire rings or a fire pan.
A fuel-wood permit is not necessary to gather wood for your campfire. Trash does not belong in the fire pit and usually doesn’t burn completely. Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Never leave a campfire unattended.
Show respect for wildlife by taking only clean kill shots, then retrieving and properly handling your game.
Never feed wildlife, because it damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
Be considerate of others
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Be aware of your “field of fire,” and be aware of your firearm around others. Shoot at least 150 yards away from developed areas, campsites or roads. Yield to other users on the trail, and step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
Make sure a friend or family member knows your itinerary for the backcountry. If you do not contact that person at the agreed-upon time, he or she can contact La Plata County Search and Rescue through the Sheriff’s Office at 247-1157.
Alan Peterson is director of bookstore operations and visitor services for San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public-land stewardship and education.