The Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) chapter held their 13th Annual Rendezvous in the San Isabel National Forest west of Salida/Poncha Springs during June. A group of 20-to-30 hunters and anglers from around the state set up camp in a high-mountain meadow (known locally as the “goat wadi”) covering about six acres at 10,000 feet in the Sawatch Range.
We camped next to the Colorado Trail and south of the 167,414-acre Collegiate Peaks Wilderness with easy access to a number of hiking and fishing locales. This was the sixth Rendezvous we’ve held at the goat wadi (2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2022). The site was initially recommended by a local BHA Life Member, Bill Sustrich, who was also a World War II/U.S. Navy veteran.
Bill served aboard the minesweeper YMS Yancy in the Pacific theater. Following the war he moved to Denver (in 1949), where he became an explosives engineer. He developed the explosive designs to initiate stage separation on the space program’s Titan rockets. He later worked on explosive designs for advanced military projects.
In 1968, Bill and his wife Frances moved to Salida and purchased the Wagon Wheel Guest Ranch. During 2018 they celebrated their 50th year owning and operating the Ranch. Bill was also an avid hunter-angler and a champion of wilderness and wildlife. He led the charge for Colorado BHA, along with many others, to get Browns Canyon (north of Salida) designated as a national monument.
During 2015 we recognized Bill with an award for his “unwavering commitment, spanning ten-plus years, to helping protect low-elevation big game habitat in the Browns Canyon area near Salida, which was designated a national monument in 2015.” In Bill’s words: “In the simplest terms, without suitable habitat we will have no game; without game, we will have no hunting; without hunting, a precious heritage of our past will be lost forever.”
On Saturday (June 11), we dispersed to go hiking and fishing, returning mid-afternoon for an informative Q&A session with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Area Wildlife Manager Sean Shepherd (Area 13-Salida). Sean started working for Colorado State Parks in 2000, before being hired by CPW as a region supervisor at Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in 2005. Later, he was transferred to Summit County, but returned to work out of the Salida CPW office in 2013.
After the CPW Q&A session, we held an informal chapter meeting to discuss where we’ve been, where we’re going, and to recognize our collective contributions to BHA’s rapidly growing portfolio of conservation (and other) accomplishments. For dinner that evening we had a wild game feed, which included (in part): wild turkey pastrami, elk pastrami, elk burger sliders, elk chili, mule deer sausage, venison tacos, corned venison sandwiches, deer barbacoa tacos, smoked duck, Sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, etc.
This wild game smorgasbord is an example/indicator of the breadth and depth of hunting and angling opportunities BHA is working to protect and perpetuate across Colorado and the continent, none of which would be possible without the dedication of our boots on the ground members. From the start BHA has been a quality over quantity outfit. As a result, we punch well above our weight class.
And nothing breeds success like success. Since the Colorado BHA chapter was founded by David “Elkheart” Petersen (a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) in 2005 (the first official BHA chapter), our membership has grown considerably. For example, in June 2016 (when we last set up camp at the goat wadi) we had about 400 members. Today, we have over 2,000!
“For me, it was always super simple,” David Petersen said. “If you want to hunt, first you have to have animals to hunt. And if you want animals, first they’ve got to have habitat to live in. So, if you’re not trying to protect habitat and improve it and increase it, then you’re working against yourself as a hunter. It doesn’t have to be any spiritual, tree-hugging thing. It’s a very practical way to take care of yourself.”
Another renowned hunter-conservationist, Medal of Honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt, would agree. “Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with the West hunting in the backcountry,” explains Land Tawney, BHA’s President & CEO. “What he fell in love with was the challenge and the thirst for life that you only get in the backcountry. I take solace in the fact that we are protecting the backcountry much like he did.”
“Roosevelt was not only speaking to hunters, of course, but to all members of society,” Sports Afield contributor Shane Mahoney said. “Wildlife, in his view, was to be protected by a fortress of the concerned—an army of men and women who would resist the destruction of wild nature and preserve it.” Because of Teddy’s Roosevelt’s leadership, America’s public lands truly became the “estate” of the average American.
And as BHA founder Mike Beagle (a former U.S. Army field artillery officer) said: “We will continue to be a voice for core values of solitude, challenge, freedom and tradition so badly needed in the world where outdoor pursuits risk becoming more about selling products and technology instead of exercising skill and woodcraft. BHA is getting better and better. The best is yet to come.”
Bill Sustrich lived those values and took point in organizing five Colorado BHA Rendezvous (2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016) at the goat wadi site. During the 2016 Rendezvous we celebrated Bill’s upcoming 90th birthday. Then, during 2017 Bill invited my wife, Melinda, and I to stay at his Wagon Wheel Guest Ranch. Sadly, that was the last time we saw him before he passed away in 2018.
Thank you, Bill, Mike, Shane, Land, Teddy, David, and Sean for taking the initiative and working tirelessly to protect our wild public lands, waters, and wildlife for future generations of hunters, anglers and other outdoorsmen and women. We’ll close with an appropriate quote from Bill Sustrich: “The fact is, nothing yet created by mankind can offer the degree of wildlife refuge as that provided by wilderness designation.” Wildlands and wildlife need many more like you Bill! Rest in peace.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Principles of the Hunt
- Preserve large tracts of wilderness … and game … for all lovers of nature, and … for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether he is or is not a man of means.
- The conservation of wildlife, and … all our natural resources, are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose and method.
- Public rights come first and private interests second.
- The genuine sportsman … is by all odds the most important factor in keeping … wild creatures from total extermination.
- The true hunter … loves all parts of the wilderness.
- A peculiar charm in the chase … comes from the wild beauty of the country.
- The rich … who are content to buy what they have not the skill to get by their own exertions—these are … the real enemies of game.
- When hunting him (wapiti) … He must be followed on foot, and the man who follows him must be sound in limb and wind.
- Skill and patience, and the capacity to endure fatigue and exposure, must be shown by the successful hunter.
- I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but he doctrine of the strenuous life.
For additional/related information see:
- Photos from the Colorado BHA 13th Annual Rendezvous (June 10-12, 2022).
- “CO BHA Q2 2022 Update.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 4/1/22.
- “Colorado BHA Remembers Chapter Patriarch (& U.S. Navy/World War II veteran) Bill Sustrich.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 8/6/18.
- Photos from the Colorado BHA 8th Annual Rendezvous & Bill Sustrich 90th birthday celebration (June 3-5, 2016).
- The Wagon Wheel Guest Ranch (west of Salida, Colo.) was owned by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) Life Member (& World War II/U.S. Navy veteran) Bill Sustrich and his wife, Frances (photos from July 7-9, 2017).
- “Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Recognize Members (Bill Sustrich and Paul Vertrees) for Browns Canyon Contributions.” AmmoLand.com: 6/9/15.
- “David v. Goliath in Colorado: Bull Sustrich of Salida.” Backcountry Journal: December 2007, p. 7.
- “Where Hope Lives: A Brief BHA History.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: 11/30/20.
- Check out BHA’s North American Action Map, tracking/highlighting examples of our accomplishments as an organization across the continent.
- Check out our Take Action Center to stay engaged on legislation in your area.
- Gift a BHA membership
- David “Elkheart” Petersen (founder of the first BHA state chapter, here in Colorado, and a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) books: https://davidpetersenbooks.com/
Founded by Mike Beagle, a former U.S. Army field artillery officer, and formed around an Oregon campfire, in 2004, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is the voice for our nation’s wild public lands, waters and wildlife. With over 30,000 members spread out across all 50 states and 13 Canadian provinces and territories—including chapters in 48 states, two Canadian provinces and one territory, and Washington, D.C.—BHA brings an authentic, informed, boots-on-the-ground voice to the conservation of public lands. Since the Colorado BHA chapter was founded by David Petersen (a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot) in 2005 (the first official BHA chapter), they’ve grown their boots-on-the-ground presence to some 2,000 dedicated hunters and anglers.
 Bill Sustrich. “Browns Canyon Editorial.” Email: 11/23/07.
 Scott Willoughby. “David ‘Elkheart’ Petersen aims to protect outdoor resources.” The Denver Post: 6/12/13.
 Daniel Xu. “Leaders of Conservation: BHA Executive Director Land Tawney.” OutdoorHub: 6/18/14.
 Shane Mahoney. “Pursuit Of The Common Good.” Sports Afield: May/June 2013, p. 36.
 Joe Kasper. “[Congressman Duncan] Hunter [R-CA] Introduces Teddy Roosevelt Bring Back Our Public Lands Act.” Press Release/Statement: 7/31/07.
 Bill Sustrich. “Browns Canyon.” Landscapes: December 2009, p. 5.
 Jim Posewitz. Rifle In Hand: How Wild America Was Saved. Helena, Montana: Riverbend Publishing, 2004, p. 87.