One of my goals, while learning to hunt in Colorado, is to see all of the state wildlife areas. The goal is both to evaluate these places for other curious hunters and also to find the best places to gather game for myself. That purpose is at least part of what drove me recently to Big Thompson Ponds SWA for a warm afternoon of hunting.
The other drive was rabbits. I have not had any luck hunting rabbits in Colorado. Aside from a single missed shot at a snowshoe hare and many glances at the shadows of cottontails disappearing into thick brush, I have hardly even spotted them during legal hunting hours. But a friend of mine recently shared with me that he’d gotten a pair of cottontails on this particular parcel, so I thought I would give it a shot myself.
Of all the State Wildlife Areas I have visited in Colorado, this was by far my least favorite. To begin with, it is just off the interstate. The parking lot is about 50 feet from I-25. There is no portion this parcel from which you cannot hear the sounds of cars and trucks passing. As a result, it fully lacks any feeling of a wilderness experience. It is difficult to lose one’s self in the natural beauty of an area with the constant buzzing of automobiles in the air.
The plus side of this, of course, is that this wildlife area is surely convenient for people who live nearby, but this too becomes a problem–there were many walkers there as well, folks out for a stroll without a bit of orange on.
I don’t like to hunt around other people to begin with, and I enjoy it much less if they are not other hunters. I know that I can trust hunters to be conscious of their own safety. It is an unpleasant feeling to have an unknown number of people of unknown hunting knowledge around me in the woods. I would never take a shot without knowing what was behind it, but if I know that I am far from other humans, the overall risk and stress falls dramatically in my mind. Better to simply not have to worry about it.
The land itself is beautiful. It is not a large parcel, but it has a wide gravel path which follows a stream the length of the property. There is a brushy area near the parking lot at the near side and two moderately-sized ponds at the far end of the parcel–no more than a five or ten minute walk away from the parking lot.
It was a beautiful, sunny, 60 degree day when I visited. One of those lovely Colorado winter days, where only the lack of green in the trees reveals the fact that it is indeed winter. I took my shotgun for a walk, loaded with steel shot, hoping to see a rabbit or maybe a duck.
I saw no sign of rabbits, but spent a while watching a couple ducks on the pond. I did my best to sneak around and set up where I thought they might pass low overhead when they finally decided to leave the pond. A weak strategy, but the best that I had. I do not own much camouflage or any decoys, and putting a duck call in my hand would be no more than a liability to anyone hunting in the area.
It was a good day to sit and I did not mind the long wait for the ducks to take flight. In fact, I was enjoying myself so much watching the muskrats move about the pond that I entirely missed the first bird taking flight. The coot flew past me well within range, and I cursed myself a bit for losing my focus. Though I was also heartened slightly by having picked a good spot to wait for a pass shot. The second duck I would be ready for.
The afternoon continued to be beautiful, and I continued to enjoy myself. I watched a large fox squirrel climbing around a nearby cottonwood as well as the continued industry of the muskrats going about their daily work. This time, when the duck took flight, I was ready. But this one was a bit more cautious than the coot. While the coot had taken off into the wind and flown right past me, this redhead noticed me on approach and wheeled back, putting the wind at its back. I clicked off my safety and put my bead on its path, but passed up the shot. The bird was out over the water where I would have to swim to retrieve it, and its path was slightly too low for me to feel comfortable shooting in such a populated place.
With ducks off the menu I watched the muskrats for a while, musing about what they might taste like. I’ve heard that beaver is quite good, would muskrat be similar? Would the pelt be nice too? I observed them closely and got myself into a few positions where I had a shot at them, but in the end, I did not shoot a muskrat, nor a rabbit, nor a duck. Though I did go back and nab that fox squirrel before heading home.
In all, it was a good day. It was another day in the field where I set out with the intent to bring home something new and instead brought home only squirrel, but this was made up for by the time spent watching the ducks and muskrats, as well as the joy of taking my shotgun for a walk on a new piece of land on a beautiful afternoon.
All of that said, I likely will not return to hunt there again. Perhaps the story would be different if I lived in Loveland and it were only a few minutes away, but I certainly wouldn’t drive there from Boulder.