By Mike Deming
Craig, Colorado is the epicenter of the northwest Corner of Colorado and has been around for well over a hundred years. It is a quaint little town with a population of just over ten thousand. That is true right up to the opening of hunting season. Once hunting season rolls around, people come from all over the world to experience some of the best big game hunting the west has to offer. Some of these premium units take more than 20 years of bonus point building to even be considered in the draw and it is very well worth the wait.
This area of the state is loaded with private ground and permission will come at a premium. The long wait to draw a tag and the high premium for a trespass fee deters many hunters looking to hunt the famed northwest corner of the state. There is an alternative to playing the waiting game as well as getting access to some great private property. You do that by hunting on a ranch that has been enrolled into a “Ranching for Wildlife” program. The Colorado Division of Wildlife established the “Ranching for Wildlife” program many years ago and it allows for the ranch manager to work within a specific framework set forth by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. It gives the landowners the ability to have a certain number of tags available for the species enrolled in the program. They can manage their herds for trophy quality as well as quantity, and hunt during the very best times to harvest a trophy. This means that the seasons are long and liberal because they know the ranch owners are managing for a great hunt. In return, they must provide a few tags to hunters in the draw. Unfortunately, nonresidents aren’t allowed to apply for these hunts, but we can contact the outfitter directly.
John Papierski of Papierski’s Big Game Hunts is one of the prime outfitters in this northwest region and has a ranch that is enrolled into the Ranching for Wildlife program consisting of 18,000 acres of some of the most pristine elk, mule deer, and antelope country I have ever seen.
We would be here with John on an antelope hunt in one of the hardest to draw units in Colorado. Unit 3 and 301 will take residents and nonresidents alike 13 points to draw, but not with Papierski’s Big Game Hunts. Our hunters were issued a tag with their hunt and since there is a limited amount of tags every year, I would be stuck filming instead of carrying a gun. Randy and son Clark Van DerNord as well as Randy’s best friend Doug Blyeburg and his son Cole would be the hunters. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tag along with two father and son combinations especially since none of them had ever taken an antelope. I knew what they were in store for since I had hunted with John a couple of years back and took a monster 87 4/8 inch goat.
Everyone was up extremely early on the first morning of the hunt. That is everyone, but our trophy antelope. We would drive and glass and drive and glass and although we were seeing descent numbers of bucks, we weren’t seeing the trophies that John had set his sights on.
Rifle hunting for antelope is an awesome family type of hunt. You will see lots of critters, get lots of stalks, and spend some great time with your family and friends while enjoying the field. Seeing a lot of animals as well as listening to the trash talk about who was going to harvest the biggest, makes for a very exciting experience.
Cole was the first hunter to get the green light. John had climbed up onto an old combine to get a bird’s eye view of a wheat field and low and behold, there was one of John’s target bucks. We wasted no time getting Cole ready to go and it was off to close the distance. We had covered nearly half a mile when John pulled us to a halt. Our big buck had piled in with another group of antelope and showed signs of rutting activity. Cole got into position for a 350 yard cross canyon shot with 15 to 20 mile per hour full value cross wind. The wind and the pressure of an 80 inch buck took its’ toll on Cole and his one and only shot at the buck hit low. He was extremely bummed and with all the family and friends there to watch, he was sure that he wouldn’t hear the end of the harassment. Although everyone gave him a jab or two, it didn’t last long and John reassured him that he would have many more chance after lunch.
Coming out of the ranch house after lunch, we saw what looked like a good buck across the road. Cole would have to be a spectator on this hunt since Clark was now the shooter. John worked in on this buck and closed the distance to a comfortable 150 yards, but the bedded buck knew something was up and immediately blew out when he stood up. He made a very fatal mistake and stopped to look back at 300 yards. The wind was still howling, but Clark made a great one shot kill and dropped the buck in his tracks. After some great field photos and congratulations, it was off to find Cole his buck and it didn’t take long. Within a half hour, the team was sneaking in on another great buck and Cole redeemed himself on a running buck. Two mid seventy inch bucks on the ground in less than an hour was reason to celebrate, but I glassed up the biggest buck we had seen so far while the picture taking session was going on. Within the hour, we had moved in on this buck as well and Doug tipped over the 15. 5 inch buck that came just short of that magical 80 inch mark. We had struggled during the morning hunt, but by the end of the day, we had harvested three great antelope and all over the 75 inch mark. Not bad for the first of a three day hunt.
With Randy being the only hunter with an unfilled tag and two full days left to hunt, we knew that we would have a lot of eyes looking for a trophy for him. By the next afternoon, we had looked at well over fifty bucks and given the slip by one buck that was over the 80 inch mark. As the light began to fade at the end of day two, the guides had spotted a bachelor herd of bucks and several of them were shooter quality. It took us over an hour to close the distance on these bucks because we ran into a canyon loaded with mule deer and mostly bucks. 28 different mule deer bucks blew out of the canyon with one of them nearing that magical 200 inch mark and Randy was having a very hard time getting focused back on the antelope. Fortunately the bucks went the opposite direction of the antelope and we were soon within a couple hundred yards of the bachelor group. The largest buck finally stood up from a long afternoon nap and Randy put the hammer down and made a quick humane kill.
We had hunted a total of two days and taken four total bucks with an average score of 78 gross B & C inches. Unfortunately nobody broke that 80 inch mark, but everyone had taken their first antelope ever and they had gotten to do it as one big group. Sportsman’s News captured the entire event on film and it can be seen by logging onto www.sportsmansnews.com and looking at our list of shows.
Papierski’s Big Game Hunts book hunts for not only antelope, but trophy mule deer, mountain lion, and elk. There are very limited deer tags because John wants all of his hunters to get an opportunity to harvest a buck of a lifetime. The elk hunting has many different opportunities. If you would like to hunt bulls with a bow, muzzleloader, or rifle during the rut, John is your man. If you just want to fill a tag and see lots of elk, book your trip for a late season hunt when all the elk migrate out of the Route National Forest and pile into John’s ranch. It isn’t uncommon to see several thousand elk during a week’s hunt during the late fall. Regardless of the species or hunt you choose, John will make it the trip of your life and you are guaranteed to leave as a friend.
I made sure that I booked my own antelope hunt early for the 2011 season and am counting the days for August to get here and upgrade my last antelope, but this time, I’m going to do it with a bow. To book your own hunt with Papierski’s Big Game Hunts, log onto www.papierskihunts.com or call John at 970-629-2266.