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Parks and Wildlife commission rejects blaze orange requirement for bowhunters in overlap season

New rule proposal was in response to fatal shooting of a bowhunter in the San Juan National Forest; more hunter education planned
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission did not accept a proposed regulation that would have required bow hunters to wear florescent orange or pink during the overlap with muzzleloader season. (Associated Press file)

A recommendation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife division staff members that would have required archery hunters to wear fluorescent orange or pink during the overlapping muzzleloader season in September was not accepted by the wildlife commission during its meeting Jan. 12.

The suggested policy change was in response to a muzzleloader hunter who allegedly shot and killed a bowhunter in September in the San Juan National Forest after mistaking him for an elk.

Morosko

On Sept. 17, Ron Morosko of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, was muzzleloader hunting on the Kilpacker Trail in the Lizard Head Wilderness area when he allegedly shot bowhunter Gregory Gabrisch of Houston, Texas. Gabrisch was not wearing fluorescent orange or pink.

Morosko was arrested by the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office and has been charged with suspicion of criminally negligent homicide, a Class 5 felony. He was released on bond, and his case is pending in the 22nd Judicial District Court.

May 18, 2022
Rifle hunter charged with ‘recklessly’ killing bowhunter in Southwest Colorado

Bowhunters are not required to wear blaze orange during the bow hunting season, a preference they say is needed to keep cover at close range of their prey and take an ethical and accurate shot that kills the animal.

Rifle and muzzleloader hunters are required to wear at least 500 square inches of solid fluorescent orange or pink above the waist. Part of it must be a hat or head covering

bowhunters were overwhelmingly against the recommended new regulation that would have required them to wear fluorescent orange or pink in the overlapping season on public lands west of Interstate Highway 25. The wildlife commission did not want the change, either, and voted 11-0 to table the issue.

“Our constituents don’t want it, why change it,” said wildlife commission member Marie Haskett. “Every letter and email said, ‘do not do it.’ Perhaps a special course for muzzleloaders, that would be up to staff.”

Trail crews built these steps last summer in Kilpacker Basin during a Colorado Fourteeners Initiative project. The basin is below 14,165-foot El Diente Peak. (Courtesy of Colorado Fourteeners Initiative)

During public comment, Joey Brown, representing the Colorado Bowhunters Association, said a survey about the issue drew 11,000 responses.

“The overwhelming majority does not support wearing orange and does not think it will guarantee there are no future accidents or incidents,” he said. “Education is the only thing here, outside of separating the seasons.”

Brown said three-quarters of those surveyed also supported taking additional safety courses before buying a tag.

Bowhunter Henry Furgeson was against any requirement to wear fluorescent colors for archers. He has bowhunted since the 1990s, and has had fair success with nearly half of his hunts during the muzzleloading-archery season overlap in September.

“I am concerned that would not have been the case if I had been required to wear 500 square inches of blaze orange,” Furgeson said. “It would have been incredibly difficult to close that distance into archery range.”

Increased education is the answer, he said, especially as more and more people gather in the forest in September – from bowhunters and rifle hunters, to hikers, mountain bikers and leaf peepers.

“It is a complex problem, having further education would give folks a moment of pause before they pull the trigger, and that would lead to better and more responsible decisions,” Furgeson said.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission member Jay Tutchton suggested a renewal process be considered for the required hunter education card.

“I took hunter safety in the early 1970s, and there is no requirement I get updated,” he said. “I think we should have a refresher course, not just for muzzleloaders and bow, but for everyone. Accidents and tragedies are not limited to these two groups. We have individuals in regular rifle season with both wearing orange accidentally shoot each other or at each other.”

Archery instructor Wes Mendez said the “majority of safety issues can be rectified through education and public outreach, and reinforced through repetition and training.”

CPW commission member Luke Schafer said he has confidence in Colorado’s hunting safety programs, but worried about other states. He did not think it was coincidental that the last two hunting tragedies involved nonresident hunters. Online courses and quizzes are an opportunity to reinforce hunter safety, he said.

The Colorado Bowhunters Association is committed to increased education, Brown said. His group plans to submit a citizens petition to the wildlife commission that focuses on ways to increase education and encourage safety during the archery overlap. The petition would call for an additional safety course for all hunters.

The CBA is encouraging bowhunters to wear fluorescent orange or pink, and it hands out hats and vests with the colors at functions.

Another solution to improve the safety during the muzzleloader and archery overlap season is to separate the seasons. Commission officials and bowhunters said the topic should be analyzed and discussed in the upcoming two years before the five-year review process of CPW hunting regulations.

“Let’s spend the next two years working on education programs, and address the overlap season prior to the five-year plan,” said wildlife commission member Charles Garcia.

CPW Director Dan Prenzlow said he would direct staff members to look into enhanced hunter education, and consider more notification on brochures about the potential dangers during the overlap season.

Archery and muzzleloader elk seasons have overlapped during the month of September in Colorado since 1977.

According to a recent CPW issues report, since 1996, three incidents have related to muzzleloader hunters shooting at or near archery hunters that are mistaken for game during the overlapped seasons, which is about the third week of September. Two incidents have been fatal. The issue is emphasized by the recent fatal incident in Dolores County.

Archery and muzzleloader hunting seasons are considered primitive seasons in Colorado, according to the CPW issue paper.

The types of technology that can be used during these seasons have been greatly restricted through regulation. Archery and muzzleloader hunters rely on hunting during the rut in order to call animals within range. This is especially true for archers. To accommodate this extra challenge, archers have historically requested a monthlong season. Muzzleloader hunters also prefer to hunt during the rut.

“It is very challenging to completely separate the archery and muzzleloader seasons, while also meeting the following three objectives: providing the archers a full month to hunt during the rut; offering the muzzleloader hunters two full weekends to also hunt during the rut; and giving animals a resting period before the rifle seasons begin to breed and redistribute out of refuges and remote areas,” the report said.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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