- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (AP) - Before Elissa Knox goes to bed, she checks an app on her phone to see what time the sun will rise.

Then the wildlife officer works backward, setting her alarm for an hour or two before the sun’s rays start shining softly on the highest mountain peaks.

With a large mug of coffee, she hops into her huge blue Colorado Parks and Wildlife truck. Inside, several small flashlights sit in a cup holder, pepper spray dangles on her keychain and a rifle and shotgun hang in a rack behind her head.

Knox, 37, is one of two district wildlife officers who patrol Summit County. During hunting season, she spends a lot of time talking to hunters.

On a recent chilly morning, she drove along Tiger Road north of Breckenridge and up a skinny, bumpy road along the north fork of the Swan River and recorded license plate numbers of cars and campers that hunters parked near trailheads.

On the way back to Highway 9, she spotted a bright orange dot on a steep south-facing hillside: a hunter likely taking a break from climbing up the slope. A few elk moved maybe 100 yards above him.

Knox parked on the side of the road, turned off the engine and pulled out binoculars.

She watched as the hunter moved closer to the herd. Suddenly, a gunshot echoed on the surrounding hills.

“I think he missed,” she said, explaining that she didn’t see the elk fall or even flinch.

After hunters pull the trigger, they’re required to go look for blood if they miss and track down any injured animal. This hunter hiked up to the spot where Knox saw him aiming and walked around a bit more before descending.

When he returned to his vehicle, Knox was waiting for him.

They started a friendly conversation about the elk herd that ran out of sight over a ridge and chatted about hunting season before Knox asked to see his license.

The hunter, 34-year-old Charlie Schmidt of Silverthorne, pulled several licenses out of the back of his truck. He asked if dogs are allowed on the hunt. Knox said they’re allowed if they’re on a leash, not used for pursuing animals and don’t chase or harass wildlife.

On Tenderfoot Mountain in Dillon, Knox spent the rest of the morning driving along Frey Gulch Road, talking to more hunters and checking out their camps.

She looked for hanging carcasses, which must be properly tagged.

Around lunchtime, Knox met with a hunter in Silverthorne who illegally killed an elk cow the day before.

The hunter was licensed to shoot bull elk, and when he realized he shot a different animal than his target, he did the responsible thing and called Parks and Wildlife, Knox said.

Wildlife officers are given discretion when dealing with accidental or careless kills. Knox talked to him about the circumstances and because of the way he handled the incident, she decided to simply seize the animal and forgo charging him with hefty fines.

She said she would give the meat to another hunter with a cow license.

That afternoon, Knox responded to a nuisance call from someone in Breckenridge whose neighbor was feeding foxes.

Most people know they’re not supposed to feed wild animals, Knox said, but sometimes people in Summit love wildlife too much and do it anyway.

The woman wasn’t a repeat offender, so instead of a ticket and a fine, Knox gave her a talking to and some informational materials.

___

Information from: Summit Daily News, http://www.summitdaily.com/

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