DENVER–For hunters considering a trip to Colorado, Michael Bane has a suggestion: Try New Mexico instead.
Or Utah. Or Montana. Anywhere but Colorado, he says, because “Colorado doesn’t want you here.”
“You are crazy to come to Colorado,” said Bane, executive producer at the Outdoor Channel, in his Wednesday talk show on Down Range Radio. “If you’re a hunter, go to Texas. Go to New Mexico. New Mexico may be the next state to fall, but for now New Mexico. They have world-class elk in New Mexico.”
Bane’s message comes as the gun-rights movement calls on hunters nationwide to boycott Colorado in the aftermath of the governor’s signing of three gun-control bills. The signing took place last week, but those in the outfitting industry say they’re already hearing from hunters vowing to take their business elsewhere.
“We’re getting a flood of emails now that the bills have been signed into law from people who say they like hunting in Colorado, they’ve hunted here in the past, but that these bills go against their beliefs,” said Chris Jurney, vice-president of the Colorado Outfitters Association. “They’re telling us that now that Colorado’s becoming a liberal state, they’re not coming back.”
The boycott comes as an I-told-you-so moment for Republicans. During floor debate, they insisted that the bills would trigger a backlash against the state’s hunting industry, even though several amendments were added to the legislation aimed at protecting hunters.
“We warned them,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray). “And it appears that the boycott is even bigger than we thought.”
Hunting is big business in Colorado: The industry contributed $1.8 billion to the state’s economy in 2012, with more than 60 percent of that revenue coming from out-of-state hunters, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
Colorado hosted 489,327 residents and 86,493 non-resident hunters last year, but non-residents pay far more for hunting licenses than residents. For example, an elk license for a Colorado resident is $45, but $585 for a non-resident, said Hampton.
The timing is tricky because the deadline to apply for licenses for the fall hunting season is April 2, just as the boycott is “expanding instead of contracting,” said Brophy.
“And it’s happening at a time when people need to put their name in the lottery. People are making plans now,” said Brophy. “But if the hunters don’t come, or if they’re down 20 percent, we’re really going to feel it.”
The state’s outdoors industry is trying to counter the boycott by spreading the word that the new gun-control laws, which go into effect July 1, will have no impact on hunters.
“There is nothing in these bills that changes their ability to hunt and fish in Colorado,” said Hampton. “What this is is a protest against the state legislature.”
Gun-rights advocates warn that the bills place hunters in jeopardy of arrest, in particular the bill banning the sale and transfer of magazines holding more than 15 rounds. Many popular hunting rifles can be readily converted to hold more than 15 rounds, which is also banned under the bill.
Several county sheriffs have said they will not enforce the law, given the difficulty in determining whether a magazine was purchased before or after July 1. Even so, says Bane, “It’s not worth the risk.”
Hampton said gun owners may be angry now, but predicted the storm would pass as the hunting season approaches, given Colorado’s reputation for abundant elk and easily obtained licenses.
“We have the resource. We have over-the-counter bull-elk licenses for non-residents. You can’t find that in other states,” said Hampton. “Colorado is the elk-hunting capital of the world. There are still plenty of people who want to hunt elk.”
Jurney isn’t so sure. He points to the uproar in January after the Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show in Harrisburg, Penn., banned the sale and display of semi-automatic and military-style weapons.
Organizers ended up postponing the show indefinitely after a boycott by vendors, exhibitors and sponsors. The exhibition is billed as the largest of its kind in North America.
“The bottom line is, hunters, gun owners, sportsmen, manufacturers–we’re all part of the same group,” said Jurney. “And what’s happening in Colorado is starting to snowball.”