DENVER (AP) -- In 27 years as a hunter, Brian Soliday has heard the carping, and watched the slings and arrows hurled in the general direction of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The Frederick resident feels compelled to disagree.
''A lot of people find it easy to criticize the wildlife agency. I want to share an experience that tells a very different story,'' Soliday said.
This tale weaves through a rich tapestry of emotions and modern wildlife management issues: A 12-year-old girl on her first big-game hunt, a father's determination to make the experience a success, the diminishing role of youth in the outdoors and, finally, the abiding dedication of wildlife professionals.
It began last year when Kylie Soliday made what, for a female middle school student, might seem an unusual request. She wanted to go elk hunting. Trouble was, she didn't reach her 12th birthday, the minimum for a Colorado license, until Jan. 1, well after the close of the regular season. Her dad came up with a solution, applying for one of the late hunts DOW issues to remove excess or problem animals.
Kylie drew her tag for Unit 20, along the foothills from Colorado 52 north toward Fort Collins, and began hunting Jan. 5, four days past her birthday.
What you should know about the Solidays is they come from a long line of eastern Nebraska outdoor stock.
''Hunting is a family tradition,'' Brian Soliday said. ''My father, Charles, came out from Omaha to be with Kylie and I on this elk hunt.''
The quest began with a hunter education class, where Brian Soliday got his first inkling of a kinder, gentler DOW.
''It was a class exclusively for women and children,'' he said. ''It was great because it provided an environment for them to speak up and ask questions. That might not happen if a lot of men hunters were there.''
Only one major hurdle remained. After spending considerable time scouting during the holidays, the Solidays found few elk on the Roosevelt National Forest.
''Mostly, they were on private land,'' said Brian Soliday, who placed a call for help to DOW headquarters in Denver.
''Someone in customer service suggested I call Rick Spowart, district wildlife manager out of Estes Park. I left a voice mail and he called back. He also sent an e-mail saying where he'd sighted elk and suggested calling Mark Cousins in the Lyons area.
''They gave me information about gate closures and what they saw. I must have nine e-mails I saved from Cousins about animals he'd seen and trails he'd found. I felt he really wanted my daughter to have a successful hunt. I later learned he has young children and that he wants them to have the same experience when they're older.''
After two days without success on public land, the Solidays learned the name of a landowner near Estes Park who had elk on his property.
''I told him about my daughter and he said to bring her up. She got her cow (elk) the first day there.''
The key, Brian believes, was the help from the DOW crew.
''They went far beyond the call of duty. They could have just given me some general information and been done with it.''
Cousins said while he tries to help anyone who asks, the Solidays struck a special chord.
''It was apparent that Brian was working really hard for his daughter. I think it's important for someone to pass the hunting tradition within the family,'' Cousins said.
Cousins has a 7-year-old daughter who loves to put on her camo coat and blow a goose call in his ear. These things tug at a father's heartstrings.
As for Kylie Soliday, her success proved more than enough inspiration to go again this year, precisely what Colorado game managers hope to achieve through programs to promote youth hunting.
''I made a deal with her. If she pays for half her tag with baby-sitting money, I'd pay the other half,'' Brian Soliday said.
Dad also made another promise: If Kylie got her elk, he'd sign up for a lifetime membership in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Brian Soliday wasn't quite done with his follow-ups.
''I sent letters of commendation to (DOW director) Russ George and (area supervisor) Katy Kinney. These people always get letters when things go wrong, never when they do something right.''
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