Tony Vagneur: Good friends and a good story |

Tony Vagneur: Good friends and a good story

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Basically, he scared the hell out of me. I’d just jumped in my truck after loading six or so bales of hay in the back and was ready to head out. “What’s going on here?” he asked. Bigger than life, the uniform caught my eye, but that wasn’t as evident as the gun on his hip. My eyes went to his name tag, but that didn’t help, nor did the over-sized hand resting on the open window. “Yeah, what the hell is going on here?” I politely asked.

“You’re loading Division of Wildlife hay into your truck without permission.” Oh-oh, this wasn’t a petty matter — I was messing with the federal government (or vice-versa) and my heart rate went up a few beats. “Nope, I bought this hay,” was my totally honest reply.

“Now that must be a good story,” he said. All the while, he had a friendly smile on his face, disarming my natural suspicion of law enforcement. It was the kind of smile that draws the truth out of miscreants.

If I had to guess, it might be that I’ve spent a third of my life at our cow camp, high up around 10,600 feet, a mountain hideout that has kept generations of my family warm and dry. It’s not the kind of place that you can just walk away from, and even though changes over the years altered some of the character of the place, guys like me are still hanging on as volunteers or other workers.

We had enough pasture up there to keep 15 or so horses through the summer and fall, a fenced area on what we easily referred to as “Horse Pasture Hill.” We still call it that. I’ve written about how cowboy-in-charge Al Senna used to make young Max Vaughn and me draw for the short straw to see who had to walk the steep mountain hillside in the early light, getting soaked in the knee-high, dew-laden grass, listening for the bell horse and bringing the mounts down to the corral. It wasn’t all that much fun, and why Al never kept a wrangle horse still bothers me.

We quit keeping a range rider up there years ago and the pasture fence was the first thing to go. Then a tree fell on the loafing shed, and I had to haul that out of there. Most importantly, however, was that without the pasture, it was necessary to bring hay in for the horses if one stayed for any length of time.

A rule change by the Forest Service required that all hay on forest service land had to be certified weed-free, which meant that the stuff we were growing for cattle feed didn’t quite qualify and I had to buy hay from a supplier, not always an easy thing.

Then, the weed-free hay supplier moved away and I scrounged around for someone new. Lo and behold, a guy who was putting up the Division of Wildlife (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) hay, near New Castle, sold me some. Easy enough, he said. Just take what you need and leave a check in the tractor. That worked until the unfortunate day mentioned above.

Apparently, there was a squabble with the commercial hay cutter and even though I had called him several days prior, he was no longer there and wasn’t authorized to sell hay to anyone. Telling this story got the DOW officer’s eyes a little wider, and his smile a little bigger.

I’d already made the check out, so I offered to either unload the hay or mail a proper check to the DOW as soon as I got home, but the man questioning me, Supervisor Perry Will, said, with a chuckle, “Oh, you don’t have that much. Just get out of here and don’t be stealing anymore of our hay.” Yessir.

Perry Will has been a friend of mine ever since that day. If there was a wildlife problem in the Woody Creek area, I’d call him and he’d come up, without question, bringing his sidekick, Kevin Wright. My partner Margaret and I always hunted him up at the Carbondale rodeo, just to say hello and check in with his vision of the West.

If you know Perry today, you know he’s the newly-appointed Colorado State Representative from District 57, taking our rural and Western Slope talking points to the state capitol for consideration. We couldn’t be in more capable hands.

And I bring all of this up just to say that CPW gave Perry a retirement party last weekend, honoring 43 years of service. It was one of those good ones, fit for a king, so to speak, and CPW is a little poorer without Perry’s ever-watchful eye.

On the bright side, our state government in Denver is stronger (and being held accountable) with Perry Will representing the Western Slope.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at