By Dave Buchanan
On a recent frosty fall morning somewhere on Glade Park southwest of Grand Junction, Kenny Crowley lifted his head from the task at hand and looked around him.
“This is my first buck and I’m very humble” for the opportunity, Crowley, a former U.S. Army captain, told his guide, Chance Graham of Graham Outfitters on Glade Park. “The excitement will be in the memories … that will live forever.”
Crowley’s non-typical 5-by-4 buck was the culmination of another successful hunt managed by Chance and Chasity Graham as part of the Base Camp 40 Warriors in the Wild program run by Paul Bristol of Fruita.
Crowley’s comments were captured on a video recorded by Bristol.
You can say that all of Bristol’s hunts end successfully, since killing an animal isn’t topmost in what Bristol wants to provide to veterans.
It’s always nice to go home with some meat and maybe a trophy with a story to match, but Bristol sees much more in his still-growing, veterans-oriented program.
“A lot of the guys we have up here have never heard an elk bugle or seen a sunrise in the wild,” said Bristol, whose program gets its name from the game management unit where his operations take place. “I’ve found some of these vets, once they get out of the service, get so lost in their struggle to survive they forget there are people out here who care.
“We just want to open that door to where they can find that peace.”
Bristol’s original plan wasn’t a hunting program at all. Instead, he simply wanted to honor the hospice workers who cared for his father, Rock, in his final years up to his death in September 2010.
Bristol and his newly founded Whistler Entertainment sponsored a music concert at Two Rivers Convention Center with the Conroe, Texas-based Scooter Brown Band, but while the event won rave reviews from attendees, there weren’t enough attendees and unfortunately the evening finished well short of being a success.
“I had to refinance my house and maxed out everything I could to pay off” the bills, said Bristol, a former high-school baseball coach whose experience includes extended tenures at Fruita and Grand Junction high schools. He now works for the Union Pacific Railroad.
“But I decided to hold a ranch party on Glade Park to thank the folks who supported me,” Bristol said, and among his guests was Scott Brown, lead singer for the Scooter Brown Band.
During the day-long party, Bristol took Brown, himself a former Marine, to see the view from the north rim of Unaweep Canyon and while they were talking, the two men discovered they shared a desire to help returning veterans find their place in the post-military world.
The idea grew and a couple years later Warriors in the Wild was born. Brown now is the BC40 assistant director.
One of the first vets to participate was Chris Kyle, the U.S. Navy Seal sharpshooter who served four tours in the Iraq War and whose life is memorialized in the movie “American Sniper.”
“Chris went back to Texas and told his dad that it was the greatest thing that ever happened to him,” Bristol said, his voice soft and a bit sad. “He always was talking about doing things for vets. And then he was killed before he could come out again.”
Bristol took that as motivation and today, thanks to a lineup of guides, outfitters and private ranches, he is able to provide guided deer and elk hunts for both injured and able-bodied veterans.
“This isn’t about us, it’s about the vets,” Bristol said. “Some the guys who come here aren’t injured but they’ve sort of disappeared into the woodwork. We try to find those guys and open some doors for them.”
Bristol has a crew of talented volunteers, including both veterans and nonveterans, helping him arrange the hunts.
Interested vets can contact Bristol through the website (www.bc40hunts.com) and put their names on the waiting list.
“We try to get combat-injured vets first, then combat vets and then any vets, Bristol said. “We get a lot of requests and right now we just can’t take everyone.”
As the program has grown, so have the dreams. One big goal is someday to have an actual Base Camp 40, Bristol said.
“It’s a dream, for sure, but why not?” he asked. “Maybe 500 acres on Glade Park. We’re in the process of raising funds, but it’s going to take a lot of money.” Having a physical base camp would allow the program to expand, Bristol said, and be able to include youngsters and cancer survivors and “just offer a place to heal.”
He talked about how one young Texas veteran named Jonah, who had never before his hunt heard an elk bugle, saw his life change.
“We were on a stand and when he heard that elk bugle, his eyes were as big as saucers,” Bristol recalled with a laugh. “That bull eventually ran away and even though there were lots of cows still around, Jonah got up to leave.
“I asked him where he was going, and he told me, ‘I don’t have to stay for anything else. I just heard God speak.’ ”
For more information about Base Camp 40 and the Warriors in the Wild hunts, go to www.bc40hunts.com.