I had to cancel lunch with a colleague a few weeks ago because I had scheduled a heligunnery for that Friday afternoon. It was one of the more fun emails I’ve gotten to write cancelling a meeting as I don’t often have the opportunity to throw around the term “heligunnery”. At least not in the past 15 years. My husband and I are both former (old?) Army helicopter pilots and we had signed up for a rare opportunity to shoot targets out of an MD-84 helicopter at the Cameo Shooting Complex. It was part of the Girl and a Gun event which brought hundreds of women into town for competitive shooting, firearm safety, self defense and education courses, and the opportunity to shoot targets out of a helicopter. It was incredibly fun and, as always, I was awed by the beauty of our public lands. I’m sure I don’t have to waste any space in this column telling you how much fun it was. That goes without saying, right?

What is worth talking about is the fact that I even had the opportunity, as a civilian, to get into a helicopter with an AR-15 (doors off), fly around the bookliffs and shoot at long-range targets. And the only reason I had that opportunity was because the town of Palisade worked out an agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build a premier shooting and event complex right here in our backyard.

You might have seen the story earlier this week about the success of the Cameo Shooting Complex. The Colorado Wildlife Commission was in town for their quarterly meeting and Walt Proulx, the director of the complex, gave an update on their activities. Despite the loss of a number of events as a result of the pandemic, the complex has been successful and is growing beyond initial expectations. The continued growth and addition of a conference and event center geared towards sportsmen and women will only add to the overall economic impact that the complex contributes to our economy.

We talk about outdoor recreation often because, well, look around. Opportunities abound here to be outside all year. For obvious reasons, we’re known mostly as a mountain biking destination, although the opportunities to both downhill and cross country ski on the Mesa are both a major amenity for locals and a draw for tourists. We’re named for the junction of two great rivers which provide ample opportunity to boat and fish and, my personal favorite after work activity in the summer months is the easy, kid-friendly Fruita to Loma float.

Colorado also has the best public lands hunting in the country- a fact that you probably only know if you or someone in your family hunts. Fees from hunting and fishing licenses and tags provide the vast majority of funding used to protect and manage our wildlife population and conserve habitat. It’s a $3 billion industry in Colorado that supports Colorado’s conservation programs in all 64 counties. Much of it is tourism- hunters and anglers coming in from out of state to take advantage of our affordable and plentiful hunting options. They stay in hotels, eat in our restaurants and use our airports, providing significant economic impact to our rural communities. But the hunting industry also provides thousands of jobs across the state- many in the manufacturing industry. Right here in Mesa County, we have a number of great companies such as Seek Outside, Hill People Gear, and XLR Industries that provide great jobs and manufacture products used by hunters and competition shooters all over the world.

The barrier to entry is high though. Hunting isn’t something you can just do after watching a few YouTube videos and unless you have a family member to show you the ropes, it’s an intimidating sport to pick up. Every decision you make in the process of getting that elk or pheasant onto your dinner plate is an important one that requires hours of education, a few good mentors and a lot of patience. Colorado Parks and Wildlife can help with all of that- starting with firearm and hunter safety as well as introductory courses for beginners. Having the Cameo Shooting Complex right here is an added bonus with all kinds of fun activities and I suggest you take a drive out to meet the CPW team and see what the fuss is all about. You might even find yourself cancelling lunch for a heligunnery.

This article written by robin Brown originally ran in The Daily Sentinel on Sunday, February 16. Robin Brown is the Executive Director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and the Western Region Hunting Representative for the Colorado Wildlife Council. You can reach Robin at robin@gjep.org.