Big Changes Happening on August 7, 2019.


Western states are ideal for do-it-yourself varmint hunts

Traveling with family is a mixed bag. Sharing adventures with wife and daughter while we explore the far corners of America or even the world is an experience not to be missed. But let’s be honest. Wives and daughters have their own agendas, and mine would rather explore a mall or thrift store than hike a wilderness trail or hunt for anything other than a clearance sale.

But my wife truly loves to travel, and she outdid herself this time. She elected to leave her well-paying job as a chemical engineer behind last June, growing tired of a clueless boss and endless on-call hours. She decided to cash in some long-held savings bonds, spend a few months as a stay-at-home mom to our 13-year-old daughter and find a new career.

That was 13 months ago. Although she won Appvion’s highest employee honor as an engineer, she didn’t even get a courtesy call or email from her two non-engineering job applications (she has background in logistics and Six Sigma). But she did manage to plan a three-week family vacation that makes the Griswolds’ trips look like lazy weekend road trips.

I’ve never taken a three-week vacation in my life, but this would be a major adventure. We would make a vast sweep of the west that would include Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota! We’d focus on national parks, including Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone and many others. As I type this on my laptop, I’m in a cozy motel room in Chester, California, having just finished an afternoon exploring the snow-choked Lassen Volcanic National Park, featuring steaming hot sulphur springs and a huge section of recovered forest since Lassen Peak last erupted in 1921.

If you ever decide to try something this crazy, or perhaps visit just three or four national parks in one trip, get a National Parks Pass for $80 and save yourself some dough on admission fees. We have nine national parks or monuments on our agenda and with admission at $25-$35 each, your annual pass will save you enough for a few fast-food meals or maybe a night in a mom-and-pop motel.

At a Colorado rest stop, we stocked up on brochures. I’m a sucker for the printed word, maybe because of my love for newspapers, magazines and books, so I always go nuts on these colorful little memories of places I’ll probably not even get to. I bring them home with the intention of giving them to people who are heading where I just went, but my wife normally recycles them before I ever look at them again.

Several brochures on Colorado hunting and outfitters caught my eye, and the bubbly woman working there was only too eager to load me up.

I learned that Colorado requires a small game license for coyotes, prairie dogs, ground squirrels and other small furry critters that are so fun to chase in spring, summer and early fall. Some states, like Montana, do not.

Now I’m in the middle of a family vacation, but my mind’s already planning the Woodstock of varmint hunts with a good buddy or two.

I asked (begged, really) my lovely wife if I could toss a varmint rifle in the minivan with our mounds of blankets and coolers and rappelling gear and snakebite kits, but there just wasn’t room. I knew I could try a few shots at prairie dogs with my Glacier National Park bear medicine (Taurus 7-shot .357 Magnum with Hornady Critical Defense ammo), but the noise alone would attract too much attention.

However, I could jot a few notes if I saw a prairie dog town (say Mile 85 on I-25 South near Brantzell, Colorado, exit 83) and perhaps return. I got hooked on prairie dog hunting during two trips to eastern Wyoming in the 1990s, but sadly have not had any serious return trips since. (We did shoot a few during two antelope hunts on the same ranch a few years later.)

Since my wife doesn’t trust my driving (I think speed limits are just a government suggestion), she prefers to drive. This gives me time to shoot photos of the scenery and of course the wildlife. Halfway through our trip, I’ve seen four coyotes, and that’s mostly at highway speeds. Two were in national parks, but the other two were on public or reservation lands.

Most landowners are more than happy to get rid of coyotes, prairie dogs and other varmints. State fish and game or departments of natural resources will provide regulations and suggest hunting spots. Bureau of Land Management and National Grasslands acres are also open to hunting in most cases. If you want to be sure of success, spend the money and pay a few hundred bucks a day to have a guide point the way. The web is full of forums and tips on where to go, too.

A do-it-yourself varmint hunt is fun to plan and easier than you think. Calculate your food, fuel, lodging and incidental expenses, get a buddy or two to commit and make this adventure happen! Nobody’s getting any younger and “someday” could be never if you keep putting it off.

Send me an email if you want some more ideas on places to go.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at