Bill Wille displays the many mounted animals within his workshop, which contains more than 200 preserved creatures of every kind. The Meeker resident owns Antlers Taxidermy and provides African safari tours on a yearly basis.

Photo by Andy Bockelman

Bill Wille displays the many mounted animals within his workshop, which contains more than 200 preserved creatures of every kind. The Meeker resident owns Antlers Taxidermy and provides African safari tours on a yearly basis.

Meeker businesses prep for hunting season

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Meeker restaurants:

After a long day out in the wilderness, the many hunters and trackers who come to take in the natural splendor of our corner of Colorado have one thing in common: the need for a good meal.

Some may want a simple sandwich, others a sit-down eatery, and some may have a more ethnic palate, but all of them can find something to suit their taste within Meeker’s restaurant scene.

If it’s a good cut of meat you’re looking for, the deli at Brother’s Custom Processing can help you there. For other traditional American fare, grab a brew with your grub at Holliday’s Grill or head down to Clarks Big Burger for a good old-fashioned combo of beef on a bun with a side of fries and a chocolate malt.

Clarks is a favorite among locals, but owner Justin Slaugh also sees a number of vacationing hunters thanks to referrals from Purkey Packing Plant.

“They get a ticket there, and they can bring it in here for a discount,” he said. “It’s very important for us to appeal to the hunters.”

In the mood for Italian? Grab a quick pie from Pizza Hut or take your time and take a load off your feet at Ma Famiglia, right across the street.

Or, if your epicurean interests lie in other parts of the globe, the international food court of Market Street also offers Asian delights with California Wok and the South-of-the-border sensibilities of Mexican House Restaurant, the latter of which features a full bar and numerous TVs for those looking to stay in touch with the sports world.

“It’s always a good time here,” co-owner Arturo Rodriguez said.

— Whether you need the personal attention that only a small town can provide or connections reaching halfway around the world, the business scene in Meeker is ready and raring to help out the hunting crowd.

The multitudes that flock to the Northwest Colorado town are well taken care of within the confines of the community, which fully understands the needs of the average hunter.

Stan Wyatt, owner of Wyatt’s Sports Center, is entering his 19th year supplying those who come to the area with camouflage, knives, ammo and all the other equipment needed for the experience.

“Most of our business is non-residents in the area, by far,” Wyatt said. “We get a lot of repeat business, and you see so many people year after year that it’s kind of hard to remember them all.”

Wyatt estimates he likely has had a customer from every state in the country and beyond.

“We’ve had them from Alaska and Hawaii and Canada, all over North America, and occasionally we’ll get someone from across the pond in England,” he said. “I’ve already been getting lots of calls from people.”

Wyatt said the stretch of 2009 to 2011 was a rough one business-wise, but last year saw an increase in hunters stopping by his shop, a pattern he hopes will continue in the coming months.

“I expect to have a pretty good season,” he said. “It’s beautiful country, so that’s an added bonus for the guys who come up here.”

Comments on Meeker itself are frequent.

“I always get people coming in who are saying what a great little town we’ve got here and how friendly the people are,” he said. “It seems to have a great reputation.”

Within the hospitality sector, repeat business is a must, and the lodgings of the area run from the historic feel of the Meeker Hotel to the more contemporary Blue Spruce Inn.

“We get them from California, out East, everywhere,” Blue Spruce Manager Beckey Dowker said. “It’s usually the same groups coming back and it’s always nice to see them. It’s like family coming back every year.”

As a hunter herself, Dowker said she was a little worried that changing gun laws could result in fewer sportsmen coming to the area that depends on them.

Another concern is bringing back people who aren’t used to a rural zone. While some patrons are looking just for a place to lay their heads at night, those seeking a bustling social scene are a little underwhelmed by the variety of activities.

“Some people are like, ‘Well, what do you do here for fun?’ but most people like that it’s just a little mountain town,” Dowker said.

It speaks to the charm of Meeker that there are residents who have seen many wonders of the world yet wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Bill Wille, owner of Antlers Taxidermy, first came to town decades ago specifically for the hunting the area had to offer. Operating his service for the past 34 years in Meeker with his wife, Donna, many hunters have approached him about preserving their quarry, be it elk, deer or any other animal.

“I like the variety and challenge of bringing nature back to life again in unique poses, making people happy that they have this artistic form of wildlife,” he said.

His interest in taxidermy dates back to age 12, when he wanted to stuff his first kill, an albino chipmunk. He since has moved on to bigger game, his largest being a full-grown elephant.

Wille’s garage/workshop is a veritable menagerie, with more than 200 mounts of large cats, bears, rodents, fowl and many other creatures. One of his most difficult prizes is an ibex he pursued in the mountains of Turkey.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve worked with all the animals of the world, but it’s a good selection of them,” he said.

For 25 years, he has led safari excursions in Africa, a job that takes up about a third of his year. This part of his business is so good in fact, in addition to his taxidermy responsibilities, ironically he has little time for hunting in the area himself.

Still, Meeker and Northwest Colorado remain close to his heart because of the vitality of hunting and the natural beauty that those of that pursuit experience when they come here.

“I’m originally from back East, and the hunting is why I came out here, and that’s what I love about it,” he said. “I’m very myopic, since my whole world has been animals, but that’s just who I am.”

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