'But here's the truth: It's fall, there are hunters in the woods, and they have as much right to be there as anyone.'
A couple of weeks ago, walkers on the very popular Aspen Vista Road out for a stroll to see the changing leaves were surprised to meet three camouflaged hunters returning from a successful hunt carrying their firearms and their deer. The hunters were chastised for being there by the weekend hikers. But here's the truth: It's fall, there are hunters in the woods, and they have as much right to be there as anyone.
Unfortunately, many Santa Feans go into the woods with their dogs and water bottles somehow believing that it is like Disneyland made safe from all hazards, natural or otherwise, solely for their particular amusement. Last year there were complaints from some hikers that a mother coyote with a den of pups at the Santa Fe ski area (Santa Fe National Forest) should be removed because she was threatening loose dogs who strayed from their owners too close to her den.
And what about those scary hunters? Hunting and fishing license buyers subsidize nearly all of the conservation and wildlife management efforts for all species (game and non-game) throughout New Mexico. Hunting and fishing groups also have been some of the staunchest advocates of legal protections for places like the new Rio Grande del Norte Monument. They work at making sure all of us have wonderful places to visit.
Most hunters are serious about how and where they hunt; they practice safe gun handling and work at becoming an accurate shooter, plan carefully, and wish to be in areas far from other people because that's where the game will be. They respect the animals and understand that making a clean, quick kill is important. They are responsible neighbors who are hunting for a variety of reasons including meat for the family, the traditions they grew up with, and the challenge of finding game in difficult areas. And unlike some other states, most hunters in our area stalk game. They do not lure it to them through use of baiting or feed stations. They work for their chance to see game. Killing "contests" are not the business of most hunters. Of course, there are bad guys: poachers or irresponsible hunters who end up in the newspapers and give a bad reputation to all hunters.
Hunting in the public land big-game management units closest to Santa Fe begins as early as mid-August for bear and bighorn sheep, but deer and elk hunting runs off and on from the beginning of September through early December.
Our forest areas close to Santa Fe are shared by many users: hikers, mountain bikers and other recreationalists; wood-cutters and rock-gatherers; ranchers who graze cattle; and those aforementioned hunters. All are welcomed for their permitted activities.
For more on hunting rules and calendars, see the 2013-14 booklet from New Mexico Department of Game and Fish: http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/publications/documents/rib/2013/BG_RIB_WEB.pdf