Black Bear

Most of the people I know all have a favorite wild animal. For some it is a dolphin, others an elephant, or a tiger. My mom, she loves moose, and my dad is an elk kinda guy and me, my thing is the black bear. I eat, sleep, breath, and eat (literally) bears.  I believe my obsession started at a young age. As you can see in the picture below my first bear hunt was at age 3. I start tracking bears on trail /game cameras the end of April and usually take the cameras down mid-November. I also look for them in the mornings and evenings out on the prairies from sitting on top of a ridge. When they are out on the prairies they are scavenging for dead carcasses, ant larva, and anything else they can find that is bear-edible. Over the years I have had the pleasure of viewing many, many bears.

Custer County boasts an amazing assortment of black bears. Although most are not black but range in color from white, blonde, cinnamon, brown, grey and any combination of those colors. In fact the black bear has more color ranges than any other mammal in North America. In a recent Bear Hunting Magazine article, it states that 80% of Colorado Black Bears are not black but rather color phase. It is unknown why bears color phase. It could be due to the melanin in the hair shaft, which is the reason why a human has a certain hair, eye, skin color. I have seen every color except white. Judging the actual size of a bear can be difficult. A small 100 lb bear can look like he is 300+ lbs depending on the length of his hair and how close you are to him. The trick is to look at their head and proportion of ears. A small bear looks like they have big ears and a large bear has small ears. See the skull pictures below, the first bear I harvested was much smaller than the second one. The two bears that I have harvested has given my family healthy, organic, free range, antibiotic and hormone free meat. Some people do not like the taste of bear because they say it is “greasy.” I like it and my daughter likes it. If you ever get the chance, please try it!

A male bear is referred to as a boar and a female is a sow and the babies are called cubs. Sows have cubs every 2 years. A boar will eat cubs if he is given the opportunity. This is why it is imperative that boars be hunted as there are no natural predators. In 1992 Colorado voters took wildlife management into their own hands and abolished the spring bear hunt and hunting with the use of bait and hounds. This has caused a massive overpopulation of bears that has led to starvation in their dens, a huge increase in bear-human conflicts, as well as the lowest harvest success rate of all Colorado Big Game animals at 9%. Wildlife experts are currently gathering data on bear populations to recommend a plan to get the state back to a healthy number of black bears. I have heard many people say there is not an overpopulation problem because they have never even seen a bear in Colorado. Well, bears are pretty elusive creatures and have erratic patterns. They want nothing to do with humans. They have an incredible sense of smell and most wild bears will avoid contact any way that they can. They are mostly nocturnal in order to avoid humans, meaning they scavenge for food at night, but they can roam around in the trees during the day.

So you came to Custer County to visit and you want to see a bear? Unfortunately, I have no bear tour guide service, but that would be my dream job!! I would suggest you go look out on the plains before sunrise and from about 6pm until dark. Look for darker colored spots cruising around out on the plains. Always stay at a safe distance and carry bear spray as it is very effective. I have had some close encounters when the wind was blowing towards me and the bear could not smell what I was. Usually by talking to them you can deter them from a confrontation.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has many links to living or vacationing in bear country. Here is one link http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeCampingBearCountry.aspx  but I suggest you browse through them all.

I sure hope you get to see a black bear in the wild! If you do please post pics to my Colorado Huntress or Mountain Shot Photography page on Facebook. I would LOVE to see them!

Happy Hunting! ~Brianna

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Spring Ranching in the Wet Mountain Valley

One of the many reasons why the Wet Mountain Valley is such a beautiful place is because of the thousands of acres of open ranch land, especially on the valley floor. Spring always brings new life. Flowers, green grass, longer days, and of course if you are lucky enough to drive around the valley you will see the new baby calves. They are always a sight to see playing together, jumping, running, springtime at its finest.

Ranching is still alive and well in Custer County, I would guesstimate there are more cattle in the valley than people, though I cannot find any hard data to support that. While some ranchers work and ranch smaller herds, some are full time ranchers. Unlike some other small Colorado communities, the Wet Mountain Valley is feedlot free, most of the cattle are fortunate to be free range and who can beat the view?!

Spring is a busy time of year for valley ranchers. Calving season requires a rancher to be close by the herd in case a problem arises, I have witnessed many cows that had trouble while delivering and had to have a little extra help for the delivery. If it wasn’t for the watchful eye of the rancher, probably both the cow and calf would have died. Long nights, early mornings and near-constant supervision allow a rancher to ensure the safety of their herd.

Once a calf is born there is still more work to be done. Some ranchers use ear tags while some notch the ear for identification. Often vaccines are given that include coverage for 7-8 different diseases found in cattle. Bull calves are sometimes “banded” shortly after birth so that later they do not have to be castrated with a knife or emasculator, which can lead to infections, but on the other hand delicious Rocky Mountain Oysters. Trying to accomplish the above is sometimes an adventure depending on the nature of the mama cow. Once a calf hits the ground some cows go into protect mode and will go after anyone or anything that comes near her new baby. Much like us and other animals. In one of the pictures below you can see a not-so-happy mama that was about to eat my dad’s lunch!

Another activity that ranchers complete in the spring is “dragging meadows.” The purpose of this is to disrupt the laying “cow pies” and break them up into fertilizer for the upcoming hay crop (we will talk more about haying in August). This ensures that the grass will grow and not be restricted and die due to lack of air and sunlight. Later in the spring, calves are branded and sometimes moved to summer pastures. Which sounds like an excellent blog topic for May!

Spring is a busy time of the year for ranchers. They work hard to provide quality, free-range, grass-fed beef for the families of America. I for one am grateful that Custer County is one of the few places left with large, un-subdivided, ranch land. It makes a beautiful place, even more beautiful. Thank you Custer County Ranchers!

I highly recommend a trip through the valley floor this time of year to see spring in action for yourself! Oh and if you snap any great pictures please share them with me, I would LOVE to see them!

Special thanks to the following for sending me photos to use in this blog. They are all great and I hope you allow me to use more in the future :)

Ory Photography, Kathryn Ory

ELEMOTION Photo, Steph Coffman

Kassi Ryff

Jaime Beach

Julie Carter

Scott Dankof

Lisa Frank

Nancy Hicks

(Mountain Shot Photography photos are from me, Brianna Cozzetto)

 

Thanks for reading!

Scott Dankof editIMG_5322Nancy Hicks edit Lisa Frank edit Kassi editKathryn Ory edit   IMG_5334 IMG_7971 2 Jaime Beach edit Julie Carter 2 edit IMG_5264 Wet Mountain ValleyIMG_0959IMG_5301 064 082  IMG_5311 IMG_0945  IMG_5319IMG_5310

2016 UPDATE : Cowboy Dressage Is Coming Back To Westcliffe!

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The Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club is happy to announce our

2nd Annual Cowboy Dressage Clinic

 May 21st, 2016 9am-4pm

with

Leslie Sutherland,

                                                  Cowboy Dressage of Colorado

                                                                 http://www.wmvsc.com

Our Horsemanship & Dressage Committee was formed with the purpose to improve horsemanship in several disciplines, through lessons, clinics, and speakers.  Western Horsemanship has been practiced on the ranches of the American West since the 1700’s and even earlier through the traditions of the Spanish vaqueros.

It is an art.

“Cowboy Dressage, as the name implies, is a combination of the best of both worlds: Traditional western and classical horsemanship. Each discipline of horsemanship is time honored and recognized on it’s own. When you combine the philosophy and practice of each and add music, you create art. Art is what Cowboy Dressage is all about: a medium of self-expression through the freedom of pure horsemanship.”   –Eitan Beth-Halachmy

  Visit www.cowboydressageofcolorado.com

We are located at 90 CR 241, Westcliffe, CO next to the fairgrounds.

 

DETAILS OF THIS CLINIC WILL BE COMING SOON! 

Thank you for your interest!

Annie Kerns

719-783-2886

Mountain Lions

Hello again and thank you for reading! My last blog was on the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, and before that Mule Deer, this time let’s talk about another valley resident and predator to deer and bighorn, Mountain Lions. They are stealthy, deadly, powerful cats that prey on live animals. The staple of a lion’s diet is deer. It is said that 1 lion will kill at least 1 deer a week. Lions also prey on elk, cats, dogs, livestock, and humans, anything they can catch. Easy prey for a mountain lion is an elk calf or a deer or antelope fawn. In the last 20 years there have only been 3 human deaths in Colorado related to a mountain lion attack. I was not able to find how many attacks have occurred but not resulted in death. A human attack is rare.

I have observed on social networking a picture of a hunter with a legally harvested deer or elk does not receive near the amount of backlash as a hunter with a legally harvested lion or bear. I spoke with Justin Krall, Custer County’s Division of Wildlife Officer to ask him some questions to try to make this blog as educational as possible. The quota for harvested mountain lions is 26 for 5 game management units. This includes all of Custer County and parts of Pueblo, Fremont and Huerfano counties.  Division of Wildlife monitor’s to make sure that 35% or less are female lions.

The night before a hunter plans to go out, he/she must call in to see if the quota has been filled. Hunters also must pass an in-depth test before they can be certified to purchase a mountain lion license. This test covers rules and regulations about lion hunting and how to accurately identify male or female lions depending on the tracks or position the lion is in before a shot is attempted. When a lion is harvested, the hunter must call to report it within 48 hours to ensure accurate quotas. The hunter must also present it to a Division of Wildlife Officer within 5 days to have a tooth pulled which is sent in for aging and a seal is placed on the hide. This seal stays on the cat until it is tanned.

Mountain lions highest mortality rate is from other lions. A tom (male lion) will kill juveniles and kittens. Harvesting adult male lions is important to ensure they have a chance to survive. There are no other natural predators for mountain lions. In California Mountain Lion hunting was outlawed and due to overpopulation and lack of habitat, the number of lions that had to be euthanized by wildlife officials has grown significantly.

Mountain Lions can be consumed, I have eaten it once and I thought it was a pork chop (my dad neglected to tell me it was lion). By law in Colorado, all big game animals harvested must be prepared for human consumption. If for some reason the hunter does not want to eat the meat they can donate it. I spoke with John Evert, owner and guide of local outfitting business Lookin’ Up Outfitters about the challenges of mountain lion hunting in Custer County. I went to Custer County School with John. He told me that the biggest challenge that he often faces in Custer County is lions crossing into private property subdivisions which then makes them have to forfeit the hunt or go around the private land and try to pick up the track when back on public lands.

We all know that in Custer County, as well as around the world, it is important to have a balanced ecosystem. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is who is entrusted to balance this system with the critters of Colorado and they do a fine job of it. I hope that this blog has helped to educate you on the importance of mountain lion hunting in Custer County as well as other counties. Please, next time you see a picture of a legally harvested mountain lion, congratulate and thank the hunter for saving mountain lion kittens, juveniles, and many other animals as well as doing their part to balance the ecosystem. If you can’t find it in your heart to do that at least please refrain from harassing them. An overpopulation of mountain lions in Custer County could be detrimental to the folks who love to live in a mountain town. Happy hunting!! ~Brianna

 

For more information on how to live in mountain lion country:

Colorado Division of Wildlife: Living with Mountain Lions Part 1:

http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeLion1.aspx

Colorado Division of Wildlife: Living with Mountain Lions Part 2:

http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeLion2.aspx

 

Special thanks to:

Justin Krall, Custer County Wildlife Officer (extraordinaire)

John Evert, Lookin Up Outfitters

http://www.facebook.com/lookinupoutfitters

http://www.lookinupoutfitters.net

And long-time Custer County Resident Ole Babcock for the amazing photos

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Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Hello! Thank you for coming by! Are you looking for a drive to see some elusive wildlife? Colorado State Hwy 96 between Wetmore and Westcliffe offers some of the best wildlife sightings in Custer County. Year round the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep can be seen on the rocks of Hardscrabble and in the small grassy areas between the road and the cliffs. Hardscrabble Pass cuts through the Wet Mountains and is part of the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byways. The peak elevation of the pass is 9,085 ft. Hardscrabble can be dangerous during the winter so please check road conditions before you venture out. I prefer to go during the morning before 10:00 a.m. but sometimes they come out in the afternoon.

Bighorn’s are the state mammal of Colorado. Rightfully so because of our mountainous state and how these beautiful creatures easily maneuver the cliffs. The main defense of Bighorn sheep is to climb to safety where predators would not be able to get to them. On the bottom of their hoof is a pad which is the same as a domestic goat, sheep and llama. This pad aids them with surefootedness to climb steep rocks.

My side job is photography. Bighorns are my favorite wild animal to take pictures of. The sheep are not as skittish as other wildlife are and you can get pretty close to them, although I advise you to stay in your vehicle because wild animals are unpredictable. Often they are very close to the road so please be careful while driving up the pass. I was lucky enough to follow an old ram for two years.  Unfortunately he was hit by a car and had to be put down. He is the ram with a huge notch out of the top of his horn.

Bighorn sheep viewing in Custer County is one of the hidden treasures that visitors can enjoy. While I cannot guarantee that you will see the infamous state mammal, you have an excellent chance on your trip to Westcliffe. Make a day trip out of it, look for sheep in the morning, head to town for some delicious lunch at one of the incredible restaurants, then in the afternoon take another trip down Hardscrabble Pass and see what you can find! Please share your Bighorn sightings with us below in the comments or on our Facebook page: Custer County Tourism Board Colorado.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy my collection of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep pictures! Happy hunting! ~ Brianna

For more information on the beautiful, majestic Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep please visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife at http://cpw.state.co.us/ or the Wild Sheep Foundation at http://www.wildsheepfoundation.org/

Mule Deer

Hello and thank you so much for stopping in to read my blog! I will be writing blogs periodically about hunting, photography, Western Heritage, ranching, and other subjects about Custer County, Colorado. First let me give you a little information about myself. My name is Brianna (Livengood) Cozzetto, I am a 4th generation Westcliffe Native, I graduated from Custer County High School a few years back, I spend a lot of time hunting in the Wet Mountain Valley, and I absolutely love taking photographs of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and all their majesty. I may be biased but I think Westcliffe, Colorado is the most beautiful place on Earth.

Right now in Custer County the deer are in the middle of the rut. I had a 3rd season rifle deer tag but did not fill it, so I went to shoot them with my camera instead of a rifle. My “guide” aka my dad, my 3 year old daughter and I went on a little drive to see just how crazy these bucks are during the rut. We arrived on the North end of the valley floor about 1 hour before sunset. If I was going to guess how many deer we saw I would have to say at least a couple hundred. In this short drive I saw more big bucks than I ever had in one trip. During this time of year, if you take a drive at dawn or dusk near any of the towns of Custer County such as Westcliffe, Silver Cliff, Rosita, and Wetmore, I will guarantee you will see some of Colorado’s best Mule Deer.

The Wet Mountain Valley is an excellent place to hunt Colorado Mule Deer, with many acres of public land, you can’t go wrong with a Westcliffe Hunting trip. If you aren’t the camping out kind, Westcliffe hotels will put you up for the night, or the season. There are many places to dine in the Wet Mountain Valley or just warm up with a hot cup of coffee. Hunting in Custer County provides abundant opportunities for both long time Natives and new comers alike. Hope to see you in the field! Happy hunting! ~Brianna

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Check out more photos in the Hunting Gallery :) 

 

Everybody Loves a Rodeo Dance!

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Stampede Rodeo poster Final 2015

WestcliffeRanchRodeo

THE WET MOUNTAIN VALLEY SADDLE CLUB

http://www.wmvsc.com

Founded in 1937 by 4 local ranchers, the Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club was created as a place to race horses.  The Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club (WMVSC), mission is “to preserve our western heritage and culture by continuing its traditional events and lifestyle”.

Nestled beneath the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Custer County is a community of farmers and ranchers who continue to maintain our ‘historical’ towns of Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, established in the late 1800’s.

The Annual Westcliffe Stampede Rodeo, a Colorado Rodeo Institution since 1946, is an exiting fun-filled event attracting visitors from near and far. You will begin your day enjoying the Rodeo Parade and then head on over to the Saddle Club and Custer County Fairgrounds for the rodeo. With Cowboys, Cowgirls, and Glory Flags waving, you can feel the spirit and adrenalin of our proud pioneers beating from within. After the rodeo, just when your heartbeat starts to slow, it’s time for more celebration at our Stampede Rodeo Dance!

The Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club doesn’t stop there.

This year we will be offering horse camping at our facility. You can bring along your favorite companion and spend the day trail riding in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain wilderness and then retire to a relaxing bite to eat in town.

Other attractions include an Obstacle Course, where you may practice your trail riding skills or attend the Trail Challenge Contests. A Dressage Arena is slated for completion in the early spring, and Horsemanship Clinics and speakers are lining up.

We will keep you posted on all new events for 2015!

The Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club is dedicated to maintaining the traditions inherit to our ranching community and to retaining “the character” of this special place in Colorado.

Come join the fun and experience “The Dance”.

WESTCLIFFE STAMPEDE RODEO

Visit us on facebook http://www.facebook.com/WetMountainValleySaddleClub

To Donate Please Visit:

The Wet Mountain Community Foundation

http://www.wmvcf.org

A Perfect Place to Connect

Sometimes you just want to connect.  With family, friends, nature, adventure or just to get inside yourself.  It’s hard to do with the hustle and bustle of the city, or in the ‘burbs’, or on the base. The relaxed environment in Custer County is exactly the right place.  The natural vistas of 14,000 foot mountain peaks, cattle grazing on the valley floor, and the welcoming spirit of friendly people make it the perfect place to discover who you are and who you want to be.

The soldier, back from deployment, the executive escaping the time crunch of the office, the working couple yearning to experience each other more than just grabbing a bagel at breakfast; they all find what they’re looking for in Custer County.  If you’ve promised each other some quality time together, now is the time and this is the place!

Oh, it’s adventure you’re looking for!  How about walking out of your lodging door, and into some of the best hiking, biking and rock climbing in Colorado, and there aren’t a lot of folks pushing to get ahead of you.  Did I mention the ATV or Dirt Bike?  Did I tell you about the camp sites and RV parks?  In Custer County you can crawl out of your sleeping bag, jump on the ATV and ride for miles with no one but Mother Nature to intrude on your experience.  Wish you had an ATV?  Rent one right here in Custer County.

If it’s a spiritual experience you are looking for, you can build your faith, bring your family closer together and discover what it’s all about at several Christian lodges and Camps.  You can rekindle your faith, or find clearer understanding walking through some of Gods most beautiful creations, or perhaps casting a fly over a serene alpine lake.

rappelCan’t take a vacation?  Custer County is less than a tank of gas away physically, but way outside the bounds spiritually.  Want to get close to a spouse?  Try being “On Rappel” down a spectacular rock face, or riding together on a horse back trail ride, or pack trip.  It’s not a lot of time, or a lot of cash, but it is an experience you will never forget and a chance to discover what really counts.

Take a look at visitcustercounty.com, and get all the info on connecting with the right place, the right people, at the right time.