The sun had just started to kiss Axial Basin on Saturday when Trevor Balzer was two hours into his workday. That morning, 200 elk were making their migration through the basin between Craig and Maybell, and it was Balzer's job to track the herd.
"I enjoy my job," he said. "It's never the same, and the people I work with are great."
Balzer is a district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. During the rifle hunting seasons, it's common for Balzer to work from sunrise to sundown. He manages the DOW district south of Craig.
At sunup Saturday, he drove slowly along Colorado Highway 13 to warn human traffic of upcoming animal traffic. The herd was separated when part of it crossed the highway and the others stayed. As Balzer waited for the other half of the herd to cross, he could hear hunters buzzing about the herd on their radios.
"They're getting excited," he said. "I should go help out."
And off he went.
Balzer moved West from Michigan after he graduated with a degree in ecology and wildlife management from Nort--hern Michigan University. He worked as a wildlife manager for an oil and gas company.
"I was lucky enough to get accepted into the DOW," he said.
After spending his first year in training, Balzer put in for a district in Northwestern Colorado and had it granted.
"Craig was a good fit," he said. "It was big enough of a town, but it also had some great areas to work in."
January will mark Balzer's second year in Northwest Colorado.
"I plan on sticking around," he said. "It has been a great experience."
Balzer's job is different every day. He spends time tracking animals, working with landowners, and this time of the year, he works with hunters.
During the hunting season, he watches animals and hunters.
"We try to make sure the animals have a fair playing field," he said. "About 95 percent of hunters do everything right. It's the other 5 that make a bad name for others."
Upholding the law
A DOW officer can be commissioned to be a law enforcement agent. During hunting season, Balzer said, he spends most of his time as a law enforcement agent.
"We follow the same guidelines as the state patrol," he said.
They enforce hunting regulations.
"If the hunters would just take five minutes to read the brochure about guidelines, a lot of the problems would be resolved," he said.
The reason that it doesn't pay to be one of the 5 percent that don't follow the guidelines is because Balzer may be watching.
"I'll track hunters, too," he said. "A lot of times, they don't know I'm there."
Balzer said he often approaches hunters after watching them to compliment them about their hunt.
"I'll tell them I thought they did a good job, and they'll ask, 'You were watching me the whole time?'" he said.
Knowing the area
To be able to know the best places where hunters will be, Balzer has to know his district well. He said he drives 175 miles a day on average. He also explores the district on horse, snowmobile and four-wheeler and in a plane.
"I try to know every hill and rock here," he said. "Hunters and land owners respect you when you know the area well."
When the hunting season is over, Balzer's job slows down, but not by a lot.
"There's always something to do," he said.
Other jobs include tracking herds, assist with sage grouse tracking and helping landowners deal with livestock predation.
Away from the job, Balzer said he enjoys recreational sports in the community and spending time with his wife, who works for the county assessor.
When he's working, he's on call every hour of every day. When he's off, he said, it's important to get out of the county, but his favorite spot is the Lost Lakes area in the Flattops.
"I know it's where I work, but it's beautiful up there," he said. "There's something to do there all times of the year."