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Colorado Hunter 2018: Colorado’s wildlife agency looks to hunters to manage chronic wasting disease

In an effort to keep deer, elk and moose herds healthy and reduce human exposure, Colorado's wildlife agency is preparing to renew efforts to track, then tackle, one of its greatest wildlife management challenges — chronic wasting disease.

"About half of Colorado's deer herd and about a third of Colorado's elk herd are infected," says Colorado Parks & Wildlife Terrestrial Section Manager Craig McLaughlin.

CWD belongs to a family of rare, progressive neurodegenerative disorders called prion diseases — transmissible spongiform encephalopathies — that affect both humans and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The same source states that the transmissible pathogens induce abnormal folding of specific normal cellular proteins called prion proteins, found most abundantly in the brain. This abnormal folding leads to brain damage that is almost always fatal.

To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infections in humans.

"CWD has reared its ugly head again and is now a real issue nationwide," says Moffat County Commissioner Don Cook, who is also part of the CWD advisory group — stakeholders tasked with bringing ideas and public support to wildlife managers.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has convened a Chronic Wasting Disease Advisory group to help make management decisions to reduce prevalence of the disease in Colorado.

Recent sampling research has shown the prevalence of the diseases in some parts of Northwest Colorado has increased from about 1 to 2 percent in early 2002 through 2004 to an average of 15 percent in 2017.

Complete elimination of the disease will not be possible until researchers develop ways to remove prions from the environment.

Management will focus on deer, due to the higher prevalence of the disease in that species, McLaughlin says, adding that this should minimize the spread of the disease and secure long-term sustainability of deer herds.

Hunter harvest will be the primary management tool, and that likely means increasing the number of bucks killed by offering more, or redistributing, licenses available for each hunting season.

In addition to management prescriptions, mandatory testing for the disease will rotate to different areas of the state on a 3- to 5-year cycle, so herds are sampled regularly.

In 2018, mandatory testing will be deployed across four mule deer herd units — the Bears Ear, the Middle Park, the State Bridge and the Grand Mesa herds. In Northwest Colorado, this will affect hunters participating in second, third and fourth rifle seasons in Game Management Units 3, 4, 5, 14, 214, 301, 421, 18, 27, 28, 37, 181 and 371.

Voluntary testing will continue to be offered to all hunters for deer or elk for $25 per animal. This fee will be waived in the White River herd area — game management units 11, 12, 13, 23, 24, 22, 211, 131 and 231 — to encourage testing in an area of high CWD prevalence.

For more complete information, see the CPW 2018 Colorado Big Game Hunting Regulations.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Bagging one of the big three — Pronghorn antelope hunting in Northwest Colorado

Northwest Colorado is well known for herds of mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope, which attract hunters near and far, including Gary Ambrosier, who traveled from Mesa County to Moffat County for the 2017 big game rifle hunting season.

Ambrosier recounts his successful hunt on public land in Game Management Unit 3, which — much like his fleet-footed prey, pronghorn antelope — arrived at a swift conclusion.

Following is Ambrosier’s first-person account of that successful hunt.

It took 13 years to draw the rifle tag, and Colorado Parks & Wildlife gave me pointers on where to go. They were so helpful. I want to thank them.

I went on my hunt with an 84-year-old gentleman who drove the truck. I don't think it's a good idea to go hunt alone. It's always a good idea to have someone, especially to know where you are going.

On opening day, we got up and left a little after 7 a.m., once we had enough light to see. We hadn't gone a quarter of a mile, and there was a buck chasing a doe across the road right in front of me. I stayed and watched it for a minute. I thought, “Hell, I ought to get out, and maybe something would happen.” I stepped clear down and off the road 80 to 100 feet and watched the buck and doe chasing each other. They went running … headed down toward the Little Snake River.

After that, I got back into the truck, drove a little ways and saw 20 antelope in a draw. There was a really nice buck walking in the sage, but I didn't shoot and risk hitting two animals. So, we drove a bit more. A little ways further, I saw this buck. I was sneaking up on him. We were on a little hill. He was laying down, and there were four does around him. They stood up. My first shot missed. He went up on a hill. The does didn't jump, and I waited, and the buck came back. He was looking down the draw, and I put the ka-bammy on him.

The meat is so good. I skinned him, boned him, got the little sucker in the cooler with some ice within a half hour or 45 minutes. Went back to camp. Had another cup of coffee. Broke camp, went to Maybell and had lunch at the park and talked to some people before heading home. It's not like an elk hunt, where you work your fanny off.

I've been hunting since I was 14, when I killed my first deer in Ouray. Moose is still on my bucket list. I learned how to hunt with my dad. My son, Jeff Ambrosier, and daughter, Amy Ambrosier, both hunt. My wife, Annemieke Ambrosier, is from the Netherlands. She really likes elk meat and is right in there with me preparing it.

Hunting is about being with your family. I like going with my dad, my daughter and my son, and I think people need to keep doing that. When you get something, take care of the meat. If you will get that meat off the bone and cooled down right away, you should have good meat.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Will you be ready when the work begins?

There’s really nothing quite like the fresh smell of mountain air as the sky begins to turn light and the early morning thermals begin to breathe up the mountain. By the time this phenomenon occurs, I am usually drenched in sweat, and my body is beginning to cool from the hour and a half hike that led me to this place. I sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the still, dark woods, waiting to hear what the elk have to say. It is a glorious moment in the elk woods, and I’ve been fortunate to experience many of them. 

For those of us who hunt the places elk most commonly frequent, it is understood there is a price to pay for such moments. It is one thing to carry several pounds on one’s back in God’s country, and it is something entirely different when your success in the field involves taking an elk. This is when the real work begins. 

Many times, once an elk has been downed, we are forced to make a decision: Pack out less meat and make more trips or pack out more meat and make fewer trips. Usually, either way you slice it, your limits are about to be tested to their extremes. Heart pounding, knees wobbling, thighs and lungs on fire, we push forward up steep crevices and ravines, over fallen timber and through places so thick one has to shove his way through masses of limbs and branches. This is real elk hunting.

When a hunter takes the precious life of an elk, he or she honor it by getting the meat out quickly and at all costs. I can honestly say that the thing I love to do the most also involves the most physical suffering I’ve ever known. 

Preparing for elk season

I don’t have all the answers. I would say we need to be intense in the off-season. We need to feed our bodies with proper nutrition, and we need to work out much as we would work when we are elk hunting.

There is a running joke at my local gym. People say, “Nothing prepares you for elk hunting like elk hunting.” While this usually brings a few laughs, and while there’s an element of truth to this statement, it is mostly false. A truer statement would be that we aren’t willing to work as hard in the off-season as we are when we hunt. Suffering is as much a part of this life as joy, and in general, those willing to suffer for what they want often get what they want. Keep the intensity up in the off-season, and you will have it when you need it during elk season.     

Truth be known, you will suffer less with a clean diet. As a person who has both eaten like a complete heathen and eaten squeaky clean, let me say that diet, alone, can bring about a huge shift in energy. I recently made some small adjustments to my eating, and I must say that, within a week of making the changes, I saw energy levels I had not seen since my 20s.  Honestly, I thought my age was catching up with me and that I just needed to settle in with the fact that I am no longer 25 years old. I was very wrong. 

I’ve been following this plan now for the past four months, and the gains I am making are mind-blowing. I haven’t changed much at all in my workouts, yet I’ve crushed many plateaus and reached new heights in run times and distances, as well as the amount of weight and reps I can do in all aspects of fitness with a clean diet. In short, some good nutrition plans to look at include Ketogenic Nutrition, Slow-carb nutrition and whole-foods diet. Having more energy from good nutrition has stretched my limits, so it takes more and more work to reach fatigue. This equates to new strength and my physical conditioning improving instead of declining.

The best diet and attitude, alone, still simply are not enough when it comes to hunting elk the hard way. In the gym, you’ve got to work smart. For me, I focus my priorities from the ground up. First and most important, you have to focus on your legs. They are the strongest muscle group in our bodies and what carry us and whatever we are packing. I work legs two to three times per week. A healthy diet of weighted squats, body squats, weighted lunges, body weight lunges, deadlifts, leg curls and step ups has really improved my leg strength.    

Next, I focus on the back and abs. The back is obviously necessary for carrying heavy packs, as are abs, because they work to support the back. Thus, you cannot have a strong back without strong abs. There are a variety of exercises out there, and I try to do at least 250 ab movements every workout. For the lower back, I look to regular deadlifts (legs and lower back), as well as stiff leg deadlifts. Then, pull ups (back and biceps), chin ups (back and biceps), a variety of free weight and cable rows, shrugs (shoulders and upper back) and a variety of other core exercises.       

For those of us who’ve packed heavy weight for miles and miles in rugged terrain, the next important area of focus has to be shoulders. As my body begins to fatigue from packing out game, I begin to shift my load straps. Often, shoulders get tired, so I shift the load to my back until it gets fatigued, then adjust my load straps back to my shoulders, and so on. The stronger my shoulders and trapezoids are, the more likely I am to hold strong while packing and experience a lot less pain. I focus on a variety of military presses, cable crossovers, reverse flys, bus drivers and dumbbell exercises to build my shoulder and trap base.

Finally, I focus on arms and chest. All these muscles are needed due to the interconnectedness of the chest/shoulder/back, as well as the need to just be strong in drawing my bow, loading my pack, boning out heavy animals, etc. I have a host of exercises I use for chest, including push ups in incline, decline and flat positions; bench press; dumbbell press; etc in incline, decline and flat. Cable flies, dumbbell flies, and machine flies supplement, as well. 

For arms, I use a lot of the normal movements — straight bar, dumbbell, cable movements. For biceps, preacher curls, free standing curls, concentration curls, pull ups and chin ups help tremendously. For triceps, I focus on dips, dumbbell tricep one-handed and two-handed tricep extensions, a variety of push ups, close grip bench and cable exercises.

Lastly, I go back to intensity and putting it all together. Each day, I select one to three muscle groups to attack. (I base this decision on keeping my muscles confused by constantly shifting from isolating muscle groups to pairing muscle groups). Once I’ve warmed up, I shift to attacking my heavy weight movements for each muscle group — six to eight reps with a little rest between sets. Then, as the workout continues, I shift to high reps, less rest and more of a circuit-style training. This is when I work in abs, calves, push ups, step ups, body squat  and a host of core exercises. Additionally, I run two to four miles every other day, and as the summer progresses, I add in two to three days per week of back packing two to five miles in hilly terrain. I start light and work my way up. 

For me, the taking of the precious life on an elk should come with a price. I love working hard for my winter’s supply of meat, and I love the gift of being able to hit the elk woods every fall. Being prepared physically and mentally not only increases our range and odds of success, but also decreases the likelihood of sustaining an injury that could cost you your life or a really expensive helicopter ride. 

The above system is a work in progress for me. Each year, I learn something new and am constantly seeking new ways to perfect my hunting game. This is how I honor my quarry. This is how I stay prepared. In closing, the question I constantly as myself as soon as elk season ends comes to mind: Will you be ready when the work begins?

Steve Walls graduated from Adams State in 2009 with a master’s degree in community counseling and has been a Craig resident for more than 25 years. He enjoys hunting, fishing, being outdoors and spending time with his wife and children.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Predator hunting profitable for Moffat County teens

Snow falls lightly, creating streaks of white across the midnight sky. The pickup truck climbs a hill, stalls, begins to slide on a road made slippery by damp snow.

The three hunters bundle out of the warm truck cab to add chains to the tires.

The snow keeps falling.

It takes 10 minutes to wrestle the chains on the truck and get back on the road. The going is slow as the hunters scan the whitening ground for bobcat tracks.

"There. Stop. I saw one," says hunter Dylan Hicks, 15.

His father, Tim Hicks, brings the truck to a stop as Dylan and his sister, Scooter, 13, jump out.

Dylan walks to the track, squats and studies the imprint for a moment.

"There's no snow in the track. It's fresh. Let's get the dogs," he says to his sister.

If the trail is old and cold, they'll have to work the dogs to get a good smell of the bobcat. This track is fresh. The mother mountain/kemmer mix cur and her pups, raised and trained by the hunters, look once at the teens before taking off on the scent.

The chase is on.

Dylan tosses a grin at Scooter, daring her to outrace him as he sprints after the cur dogs.

"Not five minutes later, they were squealing," he recalls.

Unlike other dogs, their curs only vocalize when they have their prey.

"I looked at the tree; a cat was looking down. The dogs were tickled. I lined up and shot it. Next thing I heard, a big crash and bang. The dogs were fighting and trying to get the cat out of the tree," he says.

An outdoors lifestyle

Dylan and Scooter Hicks are Moffat County teens who have adopted outdoor skills as a lifestyle.

"They have been hunting and trapping since they were in diapers," Tim Hicks explains. "No, really they've been hunting bobcats their entire life."

The animal they prize the most is the bobcat, which grows to two 0r three times the size of a domestic cat and appears more muscular and fuller in the body. Also, bobcats’ hind legs are proportionately longer compared to the front legs than those of a domestic cat, according to David Armstrong, from the University of Colorado-Boulder Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology-Environmental Studies Program. Further, he says, bobcats are secretive, shy, solitary and seldom seen in the wild.

They are active during the day but prefer twilight, dawn or night hours. They tend to travel well-worn animal trails, logging roads and other paths. They use their acute vision and hearing for locating enemies and prey.

From napping babies to nabbing bobcats, growing into predator hunters didn't happen overnight; Tim says he had a training program for his children.

"We trapped them first. The kids would check the traps with me, and when they got a little older, we'd go out coyote hunting when the weather was good. When they get a little older, tougher, we'd go call and hunt at night. Then, a little older, we went up to chasing with a cur dog up and down the mountain," he says, then pauses to consider. "The next step, well … it scares me, what the next step would be."

The teens have turned the pursuit into profit, and both are licensed to hunt and trap coyotes, raccoons and other fur-bearing game.

Colorado law allows hunters carrying either a small game license or a furbearer license to harvest bobcats. Colorado Parks & Wildlife Furbearer Management Report for the 2016-2017 harvest year estimates that, from 1998 through 2005, about 60- to 70-percent of the harvest was through hunting. The same report notes that, since 2005, the proportion has switched, and live trapping now represents approximately 60 to 70 percent of the harvest, with hunting methods accounting for the remaining 30 to 40 percent.

Available information indicates bobcat populations are stable or increasing in most or all of Colorado.

The Hicks family help Northwest Colorado landowners with predator control, while preparing and selling the pelts to fur buyers.

It's a win-win.

The 2017-18 hunting season was the first year the Hicks used young dogs — Sugar and Jet — to hunt the cats. Nuisance animals provide an opportunity for the teens to train their dogs for tricky prey — like bobcats.

"They (bobcats) are a one-of-a-kind animal," Scooter says. "They are really sneaky, and it takes awhile to get them figured out. We often go night hunting. When we see their eyes glowing, we call them."

They use a FOXPRO game call and spotlights, for which they have special permits, to hunt the elusive animals.

"With bobcats, the electric call works well. If you keep a steady sound, it keeps the cat's focus," Tim says.

A call might help lure the animals in, but success often hinges on being patient.

"Even at night, it takes 30 minutes or longer to see them," Dylan says.

That was the case with the first cat of the year, which Dylan bagged on the first day of the season when he was out hunting with Tim just before Christmas break.

"We were getting ready to call and walked into a wash. A coyote was standing in the wash, but I saw another eye in the distance. So we walked out across the wash and started calling. About 30 minutes later, the cat started coming back in, and it took 30 minutes to get him," Dylan recalls.

That night, the weather was warm — 40 degrees Fahrenheit — with no snow on the ground and a full moon.

"He bounced back and forth. He sniffed every bush. I lined it up and shot it," Dylan says, adding that the unseasonably warm weather seemed to make the pelt a little more red than usual.

Noticing such details seems natural for a family of hunters who live in a place only lightly touched by humans — Maybell, Colorado (population 72) — on property where they can look across the Yampa River, one of the last relatively free-flowing rivers in the Western United States, to see the tree where they treed their first bobcat.

Their mother, Candy Hicks, says her children have always participated in sports and played outside, and they always say a prayer of thanks after killing an animal.

"We don't have a shortage of rifles in the household," Candy says.

They are short, however, on some of the other items that fill the lives and time of teenagers.

"We don't have a single Play Station or video game in the house," Tim says. Candy adds, "We used the Wii for Netflicks."

That was before Scooter and Dylan decided to take hunting to the next level.

"It used to be fun — a big old thriller to go out there — beaming and tickled to go out there. Since going really hunting, it's a job; it’s more routine," Dylan says. He pauses, thinking, then adds, "The heart starts to thump. It's tuned up once the cat is found."

Business is good, netting them about $2,400 on the toms they harvested.

"I had to show Dylan what a high-dollar cat looked like," Scooter says, with a smile.

Her kills were fewer, but she earned the best quality prices on her bobcats – enough to buy a new hunting rifle.

Her first successful bobcat hunt was in a big draw owned by a neighbor; in Northwest Colorado, a neighbor might be miles away, leaving plenty of space for bobcats to thrive.

"I crawled up on a little hill and started calling. It came running down the hill, so I shot. I was a big old tomcat. The momma dog — Diamond — helped find it. It was strange that cat came running in like a coyote," Scooter says. "It's like a business now. One of the jobs we go do. When you get a cat found, it's exciting, still really fun, more of a business. Hunting with dogs is more exciting."

For the summer, the teens extended their kennel, so when they open each of their bedroom windows, the dogs can jump into the house to sleep and perhaps dream of the gentle touch of softly falling snow, a crisp night and fresh bobcat tracks heralding the start of another chase.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Bagging one of the big three — Elk hunting in Northwest Colorado

During his lifetime, Northwest Colorado hunter Tim Meyer has had to change his approach to hunting herds of mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope. These days, he might have to work a little harder, but it's still as much fun to him as his first hunt, at age 12.

Hunting in Game Management Unit 4, he brought a bull elk home during the third rifle season in 2015 and the muzzleloader season in 2017.

Following is Meyer’s recollection of those successful hunts.

In 2015, it was the very last day and about 20 minutes before dark when I brought this six by six bull elk down. It was my wife's first year hunting buck deer in Colorado, and I decided to get a bull tag. But, we mostly hunted for her buck. She filled her tag at our house the day before with a five by five buck.

The next day was the last day of the season. We weren't going to go out that night, but about two hours before dark, we decided to go for a drive. We got up to one of the areas we spot from. We glassed it and saw a couple of smaller bulls. After looking closer, we noticed about six in the group, all spread out and feeding. It was about a quarter of a mile, all uphill, to where I got him. I waited for a clear 100-yard shot, shot him and it was done. We packed it out that night. We process everything on our own.

Last year, I hunted with a muzzleloader. It was about halfway through the season, and I was out hunting when I saw a couple spikes walk by. Then, I noticed two bulls — four by fours. I took the first clear shot.

The terrain wasn't bad. It was more flat and wooded. I hunted every day, but my hunts were getting ruined by other people. So I went to a new place where I had never hunted before and was successful on the first day there.

Last year was my first year muzzleloading. You have to be a lot closer. I got my bull at 20 yards. It's a lot like archery, but you are using a gun.

This year, the plan is to hunt archery season. I've harvested about 15 bulls since I started hunting at the age of 12. I hunt deer and elk every year to provide meat for the family. It's been part of my life, my whole life, and a family tradition. I really enjoy it. I've hunted pigs in Texas, bear in Colorado. I got a really nice one in 2005. It's a passion. It's peaceful and quiet.

I know everyone complains that there are no animals; there are lots of animals. But people are so reliant on side-by-sides and four-wheelers. You have to be willing to put forth the effort to go find them. If you want it bad enough, you will find it.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Tales told on a turkey hunt

Some of the most cherished trophies from a hunt are the stories that are shared.

"I have a friend who shot his turkey. He went up to it, put his tag on it, turned away to do something, and when he turned back around, the bird was up on its feet," says John "everyone-calls-me-Catfish" Arthurs, in a hushed whisper.

"No way," whispers youth turkey hunter JP Price. "What'd he do?"

"He ran after it and tackled it," Catfish says with a laugh. "Can you imagine if it had gotten away and another hunter shot a turkey that was already tagged?"

JP's shoulders begin to shake as he tries, without little success, to contain his laughter.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife provides young hunters like JP with mentored turkey hunts on private lands around Douglas Mountain in Northwest Colorado.

“The main thing is to get them introduced to these outdoor activities and get them started,” says Assistant Area Wildlife Manager and hunt organizer Mike Swaro. “Any opportunity we have to get kids out and interested, we jump all over it.”

A key to success is a team of volunteers willing to give their time and energy to foster a hunting ethic in the next generation.

"God gives us each gifts," Catfish says. "When you start using those gifts for other people …" With a catch in his voice, he pauses, suppresses the tears welling in his eyes, then continues. "That's when I started taking kids."

Each child Catfish has mentored has a story, and many are heartbreaking.

He took one young woman out a few months after her father had died. Her dad had promised to teach her how to archery hunt, says Catfish. After the hunt Catfish asked his wife, Cathy Arthurs, if it was OK to give away the ladies Hoyt compound bow they'd just purchased.

Cathy didn't hesitate: “Yes.”

She said yes to another of Catfish's hunting ideas on Halloween night 2017. Catfish was watching kids on the annual hunt for candy when he noticed a boy in an unusual camo rigged Action Trackchair motoring past.

"’Take a look at that wheelchair,' I said to Cathy. ‘I could take him turkey hunting.’ She agreed," Catfish recalls.

He introduced himself to the boy — Jeremiah Price, who prefers to be called JP — and his mother. Catfish shared some of his photos from previous hunts and asked, "Would you like to go turkey hunting in the spring? His eyes just lit-up."

Afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a disease that causes progressive weakening of the muscles and leads to death — JP had been confined to a wheelchair between March and August of 2017.

The community of Craig and Moffat County came together to raise more than $12,000 to help buy the specialty mobility device, which allows JP to stand, fish and hunt like any other child his age.

The youth turkey hunt adventure began with a half-day orientation on a Friday afternoon in April, prior to two days of hunting. CPW experts and experienced turkey hunters, like Catfish, offered young hunters and their guardians tips on turkey biology and behavior.

"The spring turkey hunt is the best, because the turkeys are gobbling, and there's a lot more action," Catfish says.

Class time was followed by shotgun shooting practice at Bears Ears Shooting Range to give young hunters an opportunity to drill on gun safety and practice the tight shotgun pattern needed to kill a turkey.

"Turkey hunters must be extremely vigilant; everyone's dressed in camouflage, and most people are calling to bring in the gobblers," says Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager for CPW in Montrose. "So, hunters need to pay that much more attention to the target — what's in front of and beyond it. "

Catfish and the other guides had cautioned the young hunters — and their parents — that their prey — Merriam's turkeys — have keen hearing and eyesight, so it was also important to be patient.

It's not easy for active teens to keep quiet and still for hours at a time. The world narrows, the senses focus and little things become more noticeable.

The first morning of his hunt, JP's camo face net began to itch.

"Geez, I hate this thing," he whispered.

In the quiet of the early morning, another hunter handed him some face paint. With a grin, the teen pulled the mask off and began to camo up.

JP's dad, Yancy Price, was up before 2 a.m. to get himself and his son ready for the trip west of Craig, made before sunrise to allow hunters, guides and parents to settle into place before dawn.

An experienced hunter, Yancy has learned to take a mid-morning nap when the action slows, and this hunt was no exception.

"Hey JP," whispers Catfish. "You want me to gobble — see if we can hear a bird and wake your dad up?"

Quiet laughter. "Sure.”

"GOBBLE, GOBBLE … GOBBLE, GOBBLE." Catfish's call burst from inside the hunting blind, eliciting an excited gobble from a male turkey protecting his territory.

From under the bill of his camouflage baseball cap, Yancy whispered, "I'm an elk hunter; that don't work on me."

But the tom turkey's gobble had caught everyone's attention, including Yancy, who slowly sat up to stretch before tipping the bill of his hat back.

He looked toward his son.

"What happened to your face?" he asked in surprise.

Without missing a beat, JP replied, "Turkey pox. Do you think they're contagious?"

A tom turkey gave JP an opportunity for a shot, but the tangle of shooting sticks and the Action Trackchair interfered with his aim.

"I really wish I'd gotten him," JP tells Catfish. With a grin Catfish replies, "We'll get him later."

Later that morning, all the youth hunters and their teams met at a ranch for lunch and fishing.

The children fished in private ponds stocked with trout. Each caught the biggest fish of their lives, or, at least, that's one of the tales Catfish is likely to tell on the next turkey hunt.

That morning two hunters — Logan Coleman and Kalob More — had been successful. The next day, two more hunters — Ethan Hampton and Paiyten Myers — bagged their turkeys.

On day two, Yancy rigged a makeshift shooting platform, and they cleared extra space in the blind so JP could better swivel his chair to line up a shot.

"I've hunted turkeys for 41 years, and I've never seen one jump up on a fence post, strut and gobble like that big tom did for JP on the second day. He thought he was king of the world," says Catfish.

JP made four shots. The tom's turkey's luck didn't run out before JP ran out of shells.

Swaro says CPW is grateful to the volunteers and private landowners who make these hunts possible. In turn, Catfish, the youth hunters and their guardians are grateful to CPW for offering such an opportunity.

"It's those kids that have never been in the woods or have had an opportunity to hunt or kids without fathers, it gives me a pleasure to take them out," says Catfish.

Catfish had to teach himself to hunt. He shot too low on his first turkey.

"You have to aim for the neck where the head meets the body. I knocked him over. He got up and flew off," Catfish says with a laugh. "I was hooked from that first bird, on hunting and the stories. That's where it's at."

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Bagging one of the big three — Mule deer hunting in Northwest Colorado

Mule deer must look out for Moffat County woman Erin Fagan. She hunts deer with her father, Lee Fagan, as a way of connecting with him and enjoying the great outdoors. During the second rifle season in 2017, the Fagans hunted a big buck on private land south of Craig.

In the following account, Erin relates the story and some of the life lessons she learned when hunting with her dad and their friend, Ray Talkington.

My dad set it all up. It was the best hunt that I've ever been on. It was the most fun. It's a hunt I'll always remember, because Ray Talkington, who has taken me and my parents under his wing, he passed away about a month ago, so it was a special time, hunting with him for the last time.

We had our hearts set on this deer since archery season. I kept telling my dad he should shoot him. “No, I want him to be your deer,” he kept telling me. It was the biggest they had seen in that area. So, I drove down from Nebraska, where I'm in college.

When we saw him, the deer was walking along a ridge, along an alpha field. Once you shoot a deer, you'll never forget it. You hear the whop as the bullet hits the animal.

When I shot this deer, it was about 250 yards. I heard that “whop,” but he took off running with other deer.

At first, I thought, “Well, I guess I missed him,” and I told my dad we should find another buck. But my dad told me that if you hear that whop, then you need to go find him. The important thing is that we find this animal. We have to find this deer. We have had our heart set on this, and we can't let this go.

That was another learning point in my hunting career. Dad spotted blood. We walked the blood trail to find him and were coming up on the fence line to another property. I was getting discouraged. They live in Virginia, so if he jumped the fence, I wasn't sure we'd be able to get him. I had about had it.

Finally, we walked up on the fence line. He was lying on the fence line. He was touching the fence. It was a relief. I told my dad I couldn't believe it. I shot him. We finally got him.

I was getting discouraged. I've never missed a mule deer in my entire life. But we stuck with it, and got him. I will never forget it.

Hunting with my dad is one of the best experiences. My dad is my best friend. It's special that we get to spend quality time together. Of course, I love my mom too, but it's just really special.

Besides spending time with my dad, I know that, when I shoot an animal, I get to provide for my family. We don't have to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on meat. My parents have raised me for 18 years, so to give back, and being able to help them out with food is very rewarding.

This season, I have a Unit 201 bull tag. That's a trophy unit that I got after six years of drawing. Some people have been drawing for 10, 20 years, and I got my tag in six.

Young women need to do their research and look into it more to see the value in providing food for their families. It's beneficial and rewarding. People work hard for hunting. People should support it more than they do.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Preserving a memory takes time, skill, preparation

So, you’ve killed your first game animal, and you want to turn it into a trophy to remember the hunt. Your first idea might be to field dress it, but hold on — that might not be the best idea.

Scott Moore, owner of Mountain Man Taxidermy, says the first thing you should do is cut the skin behind the shoulder and handle it gently. Do not cut the animal’s throat or let large amount of blood touch the cape or hide, as blood can ruin it and is difficult to wash off.

After making the cuts, be sure not to expose the carcass to excessive heat, and keep it away from direct sunlight as much as possible. Keep it covered, and be sure it is secured when transporting it to a taxidermist, which should be done as quickly as possible. Doing these things will make it easier on the taxidermist to work on your hard-earned trophy.

“It is best to try to bring it in whole,” Moore said. “Keeping it cool is important. It is a disaster to put together if the wrong cuts are made and if they are not preserved properly.”

The cuts should be straight and even, Moore said. Uneven cuts and blood on the hide will make it difficult for the taxidermist to work on. It is important to preserve as much of the game as possible after killing it.

Moore noted that many hunters remove the genitals from game animals, a practice he doesn’t recommend if the animal is to be mounted, as it leaves a large hole that becomes difficult to work around it.

Moore has been a taxidermist for about 26 years and has owned Mountain Man Taxidermy about 20 years. He was the apprentice of the former owner, Bob Barton, from whom he eventually bought the business. He said he has always liked animals and was fascinated with taxidermy when he was younger.

“I always wanted to do this,” Moore said. “When I finished high school, there was two paths I had for myself. Either become a wildlife biologist or become a taxidermist.”

Moore said he sees taxidermy as an art, and he enjoys trying to bring life back to the animals he works on, preserving a memory for a hunter. When he presents the finished work to his clients, memories of their hunts seem to flood back to them, he said.

“When they see it, they just seem to remember every little details of their hunt like it just happened,” Moore said. “They remember where they were and how they made their shot. It is something a photograph just can’t do.”

Each project takes 10 to 12 hours of work, Moore said, and the turnaround time on most of his projects is about 12 months.

Colorado Hunter 2018: Hamilton family keeps up traditions, competitions while hunting throughout years

Be it elusive fowl, clever deer or even a hulking bear, the Hamilton family has seen beasts of all sizes while traversing the terrain of Northwest Colorado. But, no matter what types of outdoor adventures they have seen over the years, no matter how many trophy-level animals they harvest, no matter how tough the elements may be, it’s taking on each new excursion as a family that means the most.

For decades, the Hamiltons have enjoyed the hunting opportunities afforded in the region, both as their own form of recreation and as a professional venture that has been a major part of their lifestyle.

The beginning of the saga

While many in Colorado’s Moffat County trace their traditions back more than a century, the legacy of hunting didn’t play a large part in family patriarch Greg Hamilton’s life until about 1960.

Though his father, Fred Siebott, enjoyed the activity, running the family hardware store in Craig took up much of his time during Greg’s childhood.

A high school sophomore at the time, Greg began hunting heavily with friends Dave Silver and Jake Russell as they explored areas like Thornburgh Mountain and Morapos Creek.

Their quarry? Mule deer.

“There weren't as many elk back then,” Greg recalls.

As he grew up and started a family of his own with wife Jane, his focus turned to other pursuits. Greg and his sons, Brian and Eric, and daughter, Ann Marie Roberts, bonded after years with small game, such as rabbits and especially fowl.

A particular favorite among all members of the family was hunting geese, and Greg said he and his kids were among the first in town to get out and start shooting, whether it was lengthy trips or just a single-day drive into the wilderness.

“It was pretty much just the family then, that was the fun part, and we looked forward to all the opening seasons, especially the birds,” he says.

As Brian and Eric grew older, they expanded their horizons to larger game, taking on elk and deer.

Among Eric’s fondest memories was his second time harvesting a deer, at age 13, when he successfully brought down a buck he remembers as a monster.

“Just a giant deer, about five by four points,” he said.

Greg had also gotten a kill on that trip, Eric said — notably smaller — and the father and son placed their deer in the bed of Greg’s truck and proceeded to parade the pair around Craig to show off their successes.

“We tied the horns up and drove around town for hours,” Eric says.

For Ann Marie, being the youngest meant being introduced to hunting a little later, though having two brothers also meant she had to prove herself.

She got her chance when she nailed a dove, after which her teenage siblings jokingly told the excited adolescent she had to eat the bird’s heart.

So she did.

Or, at least, that’s how it appeared as she performed sleight-of-hand worthy of David Copperfield, palming the organ as her brothers watched, impressed.

“You can’t cry when you have two older brothers,” Ann Marie says with a laugh.

Hunting at home and elsewhere

Brian left his Colorado home in 1989, relocating to Idaho, and currently resides in the town of Salmon, a community of about 3,000, which he describes as being “more in the fat part of the state, away from the panhandle.”

“It’s about 150 miles from everything,” he said, noting its similarity to Craig as a rural spot.

A job with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation means he sees a great deal of the Gem State’s natural resources, and he sees even more hunting with sons Tyler, Tucker and Zane.

Much of the recreational activity remains the same as in his own childhood, though he says the terrain is trickier than he recalls Moffat County being.

“Quite a bit steeper out here than in Colorado,” he said. “A lot more public land, and your day always starts out with a climb up a hill.”

Elsewhere, Eric has made hunting his career. 2018 marks his 25th year as owner of Big Rack Outfitters, which provides guided hunts on private land on game management units throughout Colorado’s northwestern corner.

Aside from allowing him to earn good money doing what he loves, he says the business is something he can share with the people he loves.

Eric’s wife, Keri, first attempted hunting while enrolled at Fort Lewis College in Durango, though it wasn’t until she met her future husband that she truly gained an appreciation for it.

“It wasn't appealing to me, at first, and I had no idea what I was getting into,” she says with a laugh.

After the two tied the knot, Keri played a small role in the business, mostly cooking and performing other tasks for visiting hunters.

“As I was around it a little more, it seemed fun, so I thought maybe I wanted to give it a whirl,” she says, noting it didn’t take long for her to fall in love with it.

Keri says she harvested her first deer about 20 years ago, but the memory remains strong, because she promptly leapt into action.

“I field-dressed it and used everything they taught me. I had to take care of it; it wasn't like I'd shoot it and they'd do the rest of the work. I had to field dress and do all of that myself,” she said.

The couple’s three children — Matthew, Alex and Halle — have since become an integral part of Big Rack, spending months of the year ensconced in the hunting world.

Even before they could possess a license, they were part of the process. Keri recalls she was one month from giving birth to Halle when she shot a cow elk.

“That's one of my favorite family memories, because most people wouldn't think someone eight months pregnant would even want to go out in 20 degrees below zero,” she says, chucking. “Matthew was 8, and Alex was 5, and they were right there, helped spot it and helped load it up. It was a family ordeal from start to finish.”

Each of the kids claimed their first deer with the same .243 Winchester, Eric points out.

“We made sure to have them use that, and we want to pass that on to the grandkids someday,” Eric says. “I found that rifle when I was in college and held onto it for when I had kids. I can remember, when we were kids, we grew up shooting single-shot, bolt-action .22's with open-sights. I think we still have those rifles; they must be 50 years old.”

Game for any game

Eric describes the family’s “passion” as mule deer, but the Hamiltons are game for almost any game. A turkey hunt in Wyoming this spring was a trip the parents hope to make an annual one.

“Lots of family time, and it's great to have two college kids back with us for four days of that,” Eric says.

An ongoing project is bear-hunting, which they’ve found tougher, but the challenge is part of the fun.

It was when Alex — now 20 — was 13 that the family had its best encounter, felling ursine quarry on their property south of Hayden.

“My dad and I went one way, and my mom, brother and sister went another, because my brother had a tag, too, so were on both sides of the mountain,” Alex recalls. “We were sitting there, waiting on a log, and I actually fell asleep, because I thought, ‘no way are we going to kill a bear this late in the day.’"

She was awakened by her dad screaming, “Bear! Bear! Bear!” as a 400-pound black bear came into range.

Alex took aim, fired … and missed.

“I think that just pissed it off,” she says.

She got another chance as her father distracted the bear from fleeing. Her followup shot was a direct hit.

Even so, she and Eric didn’t get too close to the still, curiously silent beast.

“We were always taught that we had to wait to hear the death moan, and we never heard it,” Alex says. “We ended up waiting for a long time, until Matthew and Halle and my mom could come over with us. Once they got there, we walked up on it, and it jumped up on us and scared the heck out of it, so I shot it again, and it rolled down the hill.”

That hunt was one of many that have instilled a sense of competitiveness, says Keri, though her claims that she’s the best shot in the family have also added to that.

“Everybody wants to one-up everyone else, so that's kind of a fun tradition,” she says. 

Keri says it’s Halle who has a “target on her back” in terms of deer, having bagged the biggest buck in fall 2017, but as the 14-year-old tells it, that almost didn’t happen.

“We hadn't seen anything all day long, so we kind gave up, and we were listening to the radio,” Halle recalls.

The song playing — Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” — stands out to her, though the deer her brother spotted while driving was straight ahead, glimpsed through the windshield rather than the rearview mirror.

“He's always been my guide, and he always makes it a fun experience,” she said.

Keri said the trip was one of many instances of her son’s knack for making a hunt successful for himself or others, leading her to nickname him “Mr. Lucky.”

Besides working for his dad, Matt, 22, has also lent his guide expertise to clients in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, though it’s back home where he’s truly in his element.

“I think the land we have is great, just because we do hunt in so many different places, and each place has different terrain that fits each species of animal,” he says.

Future generations

While Eric and Keri’s children have already logged considerable time in the field, their cousin still has many years in front of him.

At 9 years old, Ann Marie’s son, Zeke, has some time before his first official hunt, though she’s already anticipating it will be a huge milestone for him. She plans to have him in tow during a cow elk hunt later this year.

“Getting to gut his first deer or elk will be very exciting. It's one thing when you're watching somebody, but when you get to do it, it's so different,” she said.

Ann Marie also works for Big Rack, cooking for hunters, and she enjoys having her son in the atmosphere.

“He sees hunting groups, guys coming in and trading stories. He sits there and he listens to them, and it's good for him to be around that kind of stuff and to understand it's a bonding experience with your buddies or your family,” she says. “Eric's kids and Zeke have the chance to socialize with complete strangers who come back and become friends, so they learn how to talk and listen and be around people you're not normally around. It's given him a different outlook on respect and socializing.”

Seeing his grandchildren embrace the hunting lifestyle is something Greg has loved, most importantly, their learning to hunt the right way.

“I go with them, but it's their parents who are doing the teaching. All of them are super-safe; safety is the first thing they ever taught them. That was the biggest thing we stressed all the time,” he says. “Thank God, after all the years we've hunted, we've never had an accident.”

Halle, likewise, says safety has been a cornerstone of her childhood.

“I've learned how to approach animals safely and the importance of hunting in our community,” she says. “I think that growing up with outfitters going in and out of our house constantly has made me better socially, and I can talk to adults better, too.”

Her siblings have started looking into becoming a larger part of the business in their own ways.

While she thinks Matt is the one who’s got the guide skills, Alex is interested in training hunting dogs, likely more as a hobby than a profession, but there’s no telling what could happen.

“Dogs are so smart, and I'd like to get more into waterfowls,” she says. “It's awesome to see animals work for something they were bred to do. Any type of dog could be a hunting dog, but there are definitely dogs that enjoy water more or that would be better retrievers.”

She adds that joining her family on so many excursions and interacting with so many clients has played greatly into her adult life.

“There's people who will be a part of my life forever that I've met through hunting,” she says.

Matt says his love of the industry was solidified during his first official hunt, which was just him and his father.

“He’s the one who introduced hunting into my life and has continued to feed my passion for it,” he says. “My dad has shown me so much about it, and there isn't a part of it that I don't like, so I would be happy to make a life that is centered around hunting.”

Moffat County’s 100th Fair: Royal treatment in store for fair

Many years ago, a group of Moffat County Fair Queens impressed Matalinn "Mati" Fredrickson's when they walked into her fifth-grade class.

"It made me want to be like them. They could instantly capture a room just by walking in and they wanted to help do stuff for the school," she said.

After that Mati doesn't recall hearing much about the program until early in 2018.

"My mom and her friend heard they were bringing the fair queens back and they thought I should try out for it," she said.

After an application and interview process Mati, 16, was selected as the 2018 Moffat County Senior Fair Queen.

"I'm excited to be your Senior Fair Queen because I enjoy helping out my community and this is a good way to do that," Mati said.

Senior Fair Queen Matalinn “Mati” Fredrickson

The Moffat County Fair Board brought a royalty program back to give young women in the community the opportunity to develop leadership skills and give back, said program advisor Shelley Pankey.

The program is no longer affiliated with 4-H and instead is affiliated with another fair and royalty program coordinated by advisors Pankey, Natasha Nielson and Jessie Scott.

"I am amazed that these women have brought this back. It is so important for these girls and our community to have that sense of leadership from youth. It builds pride," said Mati's mother Rachel Fredrickson.

Mati and her court of five young ladies have already represented the county youth at a jackpot livestock show and a retreat held in Routt County.

"Mati is absolutely marvelous. I see exhibiting such leadership and kindness," Pankey said.

She's looking forward to participating in parades and the 100-year-old Moffat County Fair where she will also show her big black Angus steer Meryl.

"He's ornery. He likes to think its fun to chase me. He's a little crazy," she said.

Following in the footsteps of a long tradition of fair queens is a little "weird" said Mati adding, "it makes me want to leave a legacy like her."


Introducing the 2018 Moffat County Fair Royalty

Fair Queen Mati is aided in her reign by a court of five ladies who shared a little more about themselves.


Mati Fredrickson


Senior Queen Attendant Sydnie Harding


Senior Queen Attendant — Sydnie Harding, 15

"I am so happy to be your Senior Queen Attendant this year. I like to spend time with my sheep and dog and when I'm not with my animals, I am with my friends. I also enjoy spending time with my family," Sydnie said.







Intermediate Queen — Aftyn Kawcak, 13

Intermediate Queen Aftyn Kawcak

"I play volleyball and basketball. I am in the Elkhead Wranglers 4-H club. This is my sixth year showing market swine and first year showing market beef. Good luck to all at the 100-year fair; I can't wait to see you all there," Aftyn said.








Intermediate Attendant — Kassaundra "Kassy" Haefs, 14

Intermediate Attendant Kassaundra "Kassy" Haefs


"I enjoy riding horses, playing soccer, being outdoors, hanging out with friends, helping others and doing community projects. I am excited to be a part of Moffat County Fair Royalty because it is a great opportunity to help the Moffat County community and 4-H community. It will allow me to learn new ways to work with different groups of people. Lastly, I am excited because I get to be part of the 100-Year Moffat County Fair and Rodeo," Kassy said.






Junior Queen — Jolene Rhyne, 11

Junior Queen Jolene Rhyne

"I love to rodeo and show livestock. Reading, horse riding, playing basketball, dancing, hunting, fishing and drawing are all some of my hobbies. This is my fourth year participating in 4-H and fair. My 4-H projects include market goats, market pigs, horse, leather craft and canning," Jolene said. "I also rodeo and am a member of the National Little Britches Rodeo Association. I compete in barrels, poles, goats, breakaway, trail, and dally ribbon roping. I am excited to be your 2018 Moffat County Fair Junior Queen because it is a good way to get involved with my community and promote the fair at the same time.






Junior Queen Attendant — Arianna Anderson, 12

Junior Queen Attendant Arianna Anderson

"I participate in horseback riding and shooting sports for 4-H and I also enjoy bowling. I am a founder of a club called A&J Help that raises money for different non-profits. This year, we are raising money for 'Horizons Little Points of Light.' I am excited about being part of the Moffat County Fair Royalty because I want to represent my community. I love this town and want to be a good example to other girls," Arianna said.









Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.