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The great Snowmass heifer rescue

Randall Day

Editor’s note: Randall Day of Old Snowmass and some other longtime locals were involved in the rescue of four heifers from high up on Haystack Mountain in late December. An exciting and successful event for those involved, it was also a reminder that the ranching heritage of this valley perpetuates, even though most people don’t really notice it anymore.Following is Randy’s account of the Haystack cattle rescue.If you live in Old Snowmass and you were wondering why you were hearing helicopters flying in last month, maybe it was because there was a remarkable mission of rescue under way.Four heifers belonging to Bob Perry were discovered holding up on a ridge high up on Haystack Mountain. Somehow, they had missed the call to return home at the end of grazing season. After some complicated coordination to find the resources to put the rescue in motion, the middle of a Wednesday in December turned into a time to remember.Once discovered, skiers went in packing hay on their backs, providing much-needed food. Plan B was to consider ways to bring them out. Packing a trail with snowmobiles was ruled out. Riding in on horseback, again packing trails, was also not an option because there was a snow depth of 40 inches or more. The only reasonable (unreasonable?) solution was to fly them out. Yes, fly them out.

Arrangements were made to get a crew together. Bill Fales and Jeff Burtard began the hunt for the right team. Brad Day and Steve Tenold and Bill himself stepped up to give their best. Equipment like nets, blankets, tranquilizers, antidotes, ropes and a lot of accidental spectators were gathered – and of course, a helicopter. The team required energetic guys who could shoot tranquilizer guns, snowshoe, haul nets and roll heifers around in an unknown amount of snow. Also, you take a guy who actually knows where he last saw the cattle, and knows a lot about what to do if stuff goes wrong. The team was ready. Icing on the cake is to have a helicopter pilot who absolutely knows his job.The take-off was tense for those left on the ground knowing all the contingencies – some emotion here, some elation there, but angst in a lot of faces. Avalanche, bad winds, very sick cattle, tough conditions – those of us on the ground had a lot to be concerned about for those in the air.Meanwhile, back at the ranch (the McCabe Ranch) Matt Smith painted the outline of a bovine in the snow with a dollar sign on its side so the chopper pilot would have a target to help guide his cargo drop … should they arrive.An aside: all along, there was the thought that these poor cattle, who for some odd reason chose to stay up high when the sun got low in the autumn sky, would have to be put down, that they wouldn’t be able to survive their “first-class” trip to Snowmass. This was another concern for the spectators on the ground, to say nothing of their would-be rescuers.The saga continues … the chopper took off into the horizon. The weather was calm, the crowd continued to grow. Many of the McCabe Ranch family were present, the Perrys, the Collinses, the Days, their friends and families – they waited for the sound of the first return of the chopper.The tiny sign of a dot in the sky with a long cable and a bundle beneath it was spotted in the distant sky. The background was a mountain range that can be seen in only one place in Colorado: the Capitol Creek Valley. The crew on the ground was anxious to accept the gift from the mountains. Matt Smith and Josh Day prepared to accept the package; Bill Shaffer was ready to administer the antidote for the tranquilizer that had been administered in order to create the delivery.The scene was repeated three more times. Each time the enthusiasm of the gathering increased. Because of the activity, neighbors accumulated and the crowd gathered. The Collins family and visiting friends huddled and invented a tailgate party that no one would have unless cows could fly, and they did.What followed was a neighborhood celebration of saving four heifers. They are all home, eating, drinking and recovering. DBS Helicopters in Rifle, pilot Doug Sheffer, and the Perry family are grateful. Brad Day, Steve Tenold and Bill Fales had a great day. Their families were happy to see the chopper land, as well.


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