For the love of nature

Stoffles have spent 30 years spreading appreciation of outdoors

The bumper sticker on Ron Stoffle's truck reads, "The Second Amendment made all others possible."

If there was more room on the sticker Stoffle might add, "And it has made my life a better one."

Ron and his wife, Lois, are gun people. Ron collects guns, Lois competes in cowboy action shooting, they both hunt, and they've been doing it in Moffat County since 1974. Actually, Ron was coming from Michigan to Northwest Colorado in the '60s to hunt.

"We moved here because we kept losing all of our vacation time to Ron's hunting," Lois said jokingly. "Actually Ron loved it out here, and he convinced me to move."

Ron worked at the power plant and Lois at the hospital when they first moved into their home east of Maybell. Ron continued to spend his free time doing what first led him to love Moffat County.

The educators

In 1982 Ron and his brother Tony were asked to take over a hunter education class.

They accepted and have been teaching it since.

"We've probably had about 3,000 people go through our classes," Ron said Thursday night after teaching a class of 40 about gun safety at the Cedar Mountain Shooting Range.

Today the name Stoffle goes hand in hand with hunter education in Northwest Colorado. Ron and Tony took over the classes in 1982. Last week, five Stoffles -- Ron, Lois, Tony, Ron's son and daughter-in-law Michael and Teresa -- were involved in the instruction.

"So many people automatically hate hunters because of the killing," Lois said. "But there is so much more."

Some of her highlights of teaching are seeing women come to the class.

"I see mothers who come just to learn," she said. "They have no plans on hunting but they want to know what their kids are getting into."

For some, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear "hunter education" is teaching a hunter how to kill game. That isn't the way the Stoffles see it.

"We can't make them good hunters or shooters," Lois said. "We give them enough information that we would feel comfortable with them in our camp."

The National Safety Council credited mandatory hunter education in 49 of 50 states and mandatory hunter orange outfits for the low (and decreasing) injuries in hunting.

"It would be impossible to say that no one who has gone through our class has been in an accident," Ron said. "But we haven't found or heard of any cases."

Because the couple teaches all of the local classes, including the online and at-home classes, they receive a lot of feedback.

One young student took three days to get his kill because he didn't feel the conditions were perfect.

"His mother told us that he had several clear shots but each time something wasn't exactly right," Lois said. "His dad kept telling him to shoot but there wasn't enough hill behind him or it wasn't a clear enough shot. His patience was stressing his dad out. But he only shot when it was the perfect time."

Another class the Stoffles teach is the eight-hour cram session the night before the first season. Out-of-state hunters come without a license and they have to go through a crash course.

"Those guys come in with the worst attitude," Ron said. "But usually they leave the most thankful for what they learned."

One hunter from California still sends them something every Christmas to thank them for his class.

The hunters

With almost 40 years of hunting under his belt, Ron has had his share of trophy kills. Yet his most memorable moment in the outdoors didn't involve a trigger being pulled.

"A friend and I were in Wyoming hunting, and we heard a noise that sounded like a bulldozer behind us," he said. "We turned around and saw two bull moose running down the hill. Their racks were about as big as I can reach and they were taking out small trees like nothing."

Ron was so taken aback he didn't get a shot off. Regardless, he still considers it his most exhilarating moment on the hunt.

Despite his veteran hunting status, Stoffle has failed to draw his ideal tag in Northwest Colorado.

"I'm still waiting for a tag for Area 201," he said.

The famed 201 is in Browns Park and has been well scouted by Ron and Tony, who used to be the law enforcement officer for the area.

"There are quite a few seven-point and larger out there," Ron said.

"We've burned a lot of gas patrolling out there," Tony said.

Putting in for an area wasn't even an option when the Stoffle brothers first started hunting.

"It used to be more like you would head out toward Dinosaur, pick a course and hunt," Ron said. "The popularity has grown tremendously."

The Stoffles used to host a dinner the night before the opening antelope season. As part of the Browns Park Sportsman's Club they would organize a taxidermistt, a lawyer, a meat processor and others who would give advice to 400 to 600 hunters.

"Today that wouldn't be feasible," Lois said. "The popularity of Moffat County has grown so much, we couldn't come close to hosting them all."

Lois, a self-proclaimed city girl from Chicago, said she married into hunting. When Ron first started hunting, her responsibility was to clean the gun when he returned.

"It showed me how a gun is just a bunch of pieces and how they aren't that scary," she said.

Once the hunter's wife was comfortable with a gun she started to accompany him on trips. Her favorite hunting moment is when she watched an antelope turn around after being chased by a coyote and reverse the chase.

"I've fallen in love with the outdoors," she said. "I couldn't imagine a better place to be for that love."

The family

Ron and Lois raised four children in their home on the bank of the Yampa River. Three of those children have stayed in Northwest Colorado and one daughter isn't too far away in Colorado Springs.

"We raised them to love the outdoors," Ron said.

Now the grandparents enjoy watching their grandchildren in the outdoors.

"One of the greatest gifts we could give is the appreciation for the outdoors," Ron said.

Ron retired from the power plant in '94 and spends all the time he can in nature. Lois works at Yampa Valley Electric and in her free time accompanies Ron in the wilderness or at cowboy action shooting tournaments.

Every day, they enjoy the chance to handle a firearm they are reminded of the Second Amendment.

"The right to bear arms was, and is, of utmost importance to our country," he said. "It's the reason we're free today."

It's easy to imagine that when members of the Legislature ratified the Bill of Rights on Dec. 15, 1791, they had a family like the Stoffles in mind as the epitome of the Second Amendment.

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