Editor’s note: The author is somewhere in the mountains of Western Colorado far from computers and the Internet. This week’s column is an excerpted chapter from his book “Backtrack.”

Adam Moore guided his quarter horse down the narrow, rocky trail. It was almost lunch time. A soft October breeze stirred the golden aspen leaves. Beyond the dark scrub oak, the valley spread out like a green carpet. Above the valley, the black-green timber spiraled up and up into the razor- blue Colorado sky. Moore, saddle-weary and dust-caked, sucked in a lungful of clear mountain air. He reminded himself to stop daydreaming and concentrate on the business at hand. The wiry, young elk-hunt outfitter turned in his saddle. Looking back, he tugged at the rope on his lead mule and urged the pack mules down the mountainside.

Moore’s reverie was broken by an unexpected sight that unnerved him. Coming up the trail from the basin below was another wrangler he knew all too well — an illegal outfitter from Missouri. The man from Missouri had had words with Adam and his dad during last fall’s elk season. He was not an easy person to forget. The Missourian was conducting an unlicensed and illegal guiding operation, and doing it in an area where the Moores had paid the government year after year for the right to operate a business exclusively in that area. Adam knew that the Missouri interloper was trouble. Word was out among the other legitimate outfitters that this was a tough hombre, and that, as a convicted felon, it was illegal even for him to possess firearms, let alone guide elk hunters.

Moore’s stomach churned. As the man rode closer with his “sports” trailing behind, anger took over. “Those better be your relatives you’re guiding, man,” Adam blurted out, perhaps not thinking. Maybe sensing the sudden tension in the air, Adam’s mules balked. As he turned back to check the mules, the Missourian’s right fist came out of nowhere and pummeled Adam twice in the face.

“You sonovabitch,” the illegal outfitter hissed. “I’ll kill you and your old man if it’s the last thing I ever do,” the man screamed with his hand clasping the grip of his holstered sidearm. Stunned and bleeding, but still in the saddle, Adam left the scene as fast as he could manage with his pack mules in tow.

Back at base camp, we helped Adam off his horse and tied up his mules. The elk guide was badly beaten and sick to his stomach. As Diane and I worked to ease his discomfort, Adam’s guides and wranglers were talking seriously about vigilante justice, but a cooler head prevailed. Adam’s father, Paul, a partner in the elk outfitting operation, calmed the wranglers down. Before heading to Craig General Hospital with Adam, Paul contacted the Moffat County sheriff’s office.

Before Paul left, he sent me back up the mountain on horseback with my apron and Teflon cookware. The family emergency had called Paul away from his party of six elk hunters, who were awaiting their evening meal at a spike camp up in elk country. My nag Spot and I, relieved not to have met the man from Missouri on our way up the rocky trail, found the spike camp in time to, as they say in those parts, “rustle up some grub” for six hungry Pennsylvanians. During the night, howling coyotes apparently spooked old Spot who was tied to an aspen tree. A known knot picker, Spot was nowhere to be seen come daybreak.

Minus Spot, I hoofed it alone back to base camp in time to see a Colorado game warden and three Moffatt County deputy sheriffs donning flak jackets and preparing to ride back up the hill that I had just come down. They were armed to the teeth with Big Irons on their hips, AR-15s slung on their backs, and lots of ammo clips strapped to their legs. One of our camp wranglers — unarmed — was delegated to lead the law to the camp of the man from Missouri.

The story has a pretty good ending. After a morning stakeout of his spike camp, the man from Missouri gave up without a fight. He was apprehended while watering his stock. Not a shot was fired. The law brought him down off the mountain on horseback with his hands cuffed behind him. Adam recovered from his wounds, although not without some bone damage and discomfort.

Charged with multiple counts, including aggravated assault and criminal threatening with a firearm, the Missourian was tried and wound up where he belonged —  behind bars. There are no doubt lessons for all of us in this story. The lesson for the enforcement division of the Colorado Wildlife Department is to pay closer attention when hardworking, law-abiding outfitters like the Moores complain about illegal activities. For two years, the Missouri felon guided elk hunters illegally in Colorado with impunity. Before resorting to violence, this felon flouted the law and undermined the livelihood of honest outfitters. Somebody could have been killed.

Spot? Eventually, he found his way back to base camp. But I worried a lot about that horse, especially after a cowboy practical joker named Kendall had me convinced that Spot had most likely been shot by a novice elk hunter.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors.” His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”


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