“We have a lot of fun just hanging out and doing our thing. Hunting is almost secondary. Everybody who hunts with us is really part of one big happy family.”
Up at 3 a.m. Getting acclimated with horses. Heading out before the sun rises.
After 15 years, the process is still fairly new to Carrie Lawton, who married into one of the most ardent hunting families in Northwest Colorado. But to her credit, she didn’t grow up with the same routine as the rest of her family.
As part of the Lawton clan, Carrie has grown to appreciate the early morning timelessness of hunting as a result of spending time with family patriarch LeRoy Lawton.
LeRoy, 72, has been hunting in Northwest Colorado for most of his life and leads his children and grandchildren on hunting trips each year. “It’s always a great family get-together around here,” he says.
Carrie and her husband, Tracy, have traveled on countless hunting trips with LeRoy, bagging dozens of deer and elk in the process.
“I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a successful hunt,” Tracy says.
LeRoy’s hunting method doesn’t hinge on luck — it’s the result of familiarizing himself and his family with the land of Northwest Colorado.
“He knows just about every inch of this country,” Tracy says. “He’s been taking my brother and I out every year since we were big enough to be on a saddle. It’s always been a big family thing.”
During this time, Tracy and his brother, Tony, have learned how wildlife behaves; but for their father, predicting their patterns is almost second nature. “
He just knows where the elk go,” Carrie says. “Some people will go in early and scope them out, but that just chases them out. I think the secret is knowing where the animals migrate and where they’ll be. He knows how they work.”
Carrie has encountered few people who have a better lay of the land at Indian Run State Wildlife Area and Beaver Flat Tops than her father-in-law.
“You could tell him ‘second stump on the left past the oak tree,’ and he’ll say, ‘OK, I know where that is,’” she says.
The Lawton family has been hunting in the area since before LeRoy was born. Tracy estimates that his grandparents started tracking Northwest Colorado wildlife at least 80 years ago.
The Lawtons keep tradition alive by riding horseback during every trip.
“Very seldom do we get off our horses,” Tracy says. “A lot of times, when we do, we’ll shoot straight from the hip.”
Throughout the years, LeRoy and his sons have welcomed other hunters whose paths they’ve crossed into their family fray as well. Friends from Virginia and Arkansas make the trip to Colorado every year to join in.
The Lawtons use a massive tent during their trips, large enough for 10 king-size air mattresses to accommodate everyone.
“I think what keeps them coming back is that we have a lot of fun just hanging out and doing our thing. Hunting is almost secondary,” Tracy says.
“Our friends work hard all year to come out and hunt, and everybody who hunts with us is really part of one big happy family.”
Tracy adds that he and his father focus on having a good time rather than turning the trip into a hunting competition.
“We’re not trophy hunters, and it’s not really a sport to us,” he says. “There’s just something that gets into your blood to go out and have fun with people you enjoy being around.”
LeRoy ran High Country Outfitters for about 30 years, but he prefers not to think of hunting as a business. He says the most satisfying part of any trip is the closeness involved in the excursion.
“I love the company and the camaraderie,” he says. “The camping is what’s so fun, sitting around the campfire, telling wild stories.”
For Carrie, the camaraderie is vastly different than her childhood growing up in Wisconsin. “I grew up eating deer meat, but my dad would never let me go hunting with him,” she says.
“Until I came out here, I thought it was all for guys. The first year I met Tracy, he asked, ‘Are you going with us?’ and I said, ‘No, there’s no shower or place to plug in my curling iron,’ and so I never went.
“Then one year he talked me into going and it was a lot of fun. It’s such a cool experience to ride up the mountain and then sit there until the sun comes up.”
Tracy adds that sharing the Flat Tops’ beauty with his family is great.
“We’re not really religious, but when you’re up there that’s about as close to God as you can get,” he says.