Weld County hunting grounds offer some of the best waterfowl hunting in the country | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld County hunting grounds offer some of the best waterfowl hunting in the country

Matthew Van Deventer
For The Tribune

Hunting in the grasslands of Weld County has become increasingly popular for waterfowl hunters over the past couple of decades as Colorado's Front Range — along the Interstate 25 corridor — sees rapid commercial and residential development.

"The growth has been unbelievable in the last 20 years due to (limited) places you're able to hunt, due to annotation and residential growth and commercial growth," said Jim Arnold, owner and founder of Waterfowl Haven Outfitters in Greeley.

Arnold started his company 18 years ago when there was only one other outfitter in the area. He was taking 2,500-3,000 clients hunting a year 10 years ago. Today, he and 20 employees take 5,700-6,200 people hunting a year. There are now more than 30 waterfowl outfitters along the Front Range and at least 20 in Weld —so options are plentiful.

While there is some big game opportunity in Weld County, it's the fowl — geese, duck, dove, and turkey on public land — that brings business to the area, accounting for 90 percent of hunting, according to Arnold.

There are whitetail and mule deer and pronghorn antelope in the area, but Arnold said they are sparse on both public and private lands; pronghorn may be best found on the Pawnee Grasslands. Regardless, working with an outfitter, hunters will take home dinner 95 percent of the time, as opposed to public-land hunters.

"We have a network and a resource that is not available to the (public) hunter and we're out in the field 24/7 from the start of the season to the end," said Arnold. His team keeps track of migration habits, where the most birds are and where they're feeding. They also provide blinds, or hunting structures, some that come with amenities such as propane heat and electricity.

Recommended Stories For You

"Whether you're talking individual folks hunting, or you're talking outfitters taking clients out to hunt, Weld County, particularly waterfowl, is a very popular place to go," said Troy Florina, a district manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Florina covers some 3,000 square miles, including the Pawnee National Grasslands. To hunt in Weld County, hunters must have passed a hunter's education class in their state, and they must be 12 or older to hunt big game.

After that, hunters should pin down what they want to hunt and how, and apply for tags. Big game tags can take a little longer than fowl: up to five or six years for pronghorn and one or two for deer, depending on preference points.

Once they secure tags, hunters need to learn about the area's topography, habitats, public and private boundaries, and regulations using videos and state-issued hunting pamphlets.

And if they're not familiar with the area, Florina encourages hunters get in touch with a seasoned local, perhaps a land owner, an outfitter (if funds are available), or a hunting club or sportsman group such as Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or Mule Deer Foundation. Also, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is always available to field questions.

Ultimately, Florina encourages hunters to come educated: "Read and watch as much as you can and if you have questions, we are here."

There's also Waterfowl Haven Hunt Club, started by Arnold's wife four years ago. It has grown 300 percent and provides information and community around hunting in Weld County.

Arnold suggests out-of-town hunters get in touch with their local commerce department for an outfitter referral.

"We have some of the best waterfowl hunting in the country," Arnold said. "And most people don't know about it."

Find the gun of choice for your hunting needs

Even though Brick House Guns is only two years old, the shop, located at 1002 31st Ave., in Greeley, is an intricate part of the Weld County hunting scene, providing both locals and tourists a wide range of guns and ammunition for hunting and even some pieces for the museum.

Co-owner Riley Carroll says he sells a lot of small caliber rifles, shotguns, and AR-DPMS Rifles to hunters chasing the small game and fowl that live in the surrounding grasslands—Carroll prefers a Remington 1100 for dove hunting.

“As far as the hunting scene goes, we have all kinds of hunting rifles, anything hunting related from a couple hundred years ago to the latest, greatest, coolest thing money can buy,” says Carroll, who sees customers from Nebraska, Wyoming, and as far as Texas. He sees the most business in the fall for big game hunting, which is usually done outside Weld County; there are pronghorn on the grasslands, but they can be a challenging hunt.

The oldest rifle in shop is a 15th Century Japanese Matchlock Rifle that runs about $2,000 and best left in a museum. For $400 there’s a homemade Cap and Ball Rifle used in the 1800s for hunting squirrels. On the other end is a Ruger Precision Rifle at $1,399, known for accurate long-distance shooting.

Carroll, his father and his father’s wife started slinging guns at shows in the area until they had so much inventory, some of which was in their living room, waiting for the next show and they decided to open up shop.

Today, Brick House Guns has 700-1,000 guns on hand, as well as ammunition and some cleaning kits.

“Stop on in,” says Carroll. “Even if there’s not a gun you’re specifically looking for, we definitely have, I think, the greatest variety. … We are a store, but it’s also like a museum too.”

The facts about hunting on the Pawnee National Grasslands

Hunters need to make sure they know what’s public and private when hunting on the Pawnee National Grasslands.

“One of the big things we recommend people is make sure they have a good map of the area to know whether they are on public or private land,” says Reghan Cloudman, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the grasslands.

The Soil Conservation Service started buying up grasslands during the Dustbowl in the 1930s, which is why the land it so intermixed. In 1960, it became a national grassland and a part of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Pawnee is broken up into an east plot, where the Pawnee Buttes are and a western plot that both span more than 193,000 acres of state, federal, and private boundaries and is a popular area for hunting and bird watching.

“There’s not much out there,” in terms of amenities on the Pawnee, warns Cloudman. “So folks need to make sure they have a full tank of gas, and plenty of water and anything else that they need if they’re heading out there.”

Dispersed camping is allowed as long as hunters follow the rules. Campers cannot stay in one spot for more than 14 days. After that they must find a new location at least three miles away and no more than 28 days of camping with in a 60-day period. Campers must also stay clear of trailheads and parking lots and leave any gates they come across as they are.