From 2002 until his death in 2016, Jim Bulger championed hunting in Colorado and made it his mission to reach out and recruit new young hunters and to teach novice hunters the skills and traditions of the sport he loved.
After his death, Colorado Parks and Wildlife honored Bulger by establishing an annual mentored hunt in his name, in partnership with Silver Spur Ranches and Spur Outfitters. The Jim Bulger Memorial Cow Moose Hunt program uses an essay contest to select a young sportsperson to go on a free guided moose hunt in Walden with a Colorado Parks and Wildlife guide and carry on the tradition Bulger established as Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s hunter outreach coordinator.
2020 Moose Hunter
This year, Clara Johnson of Colorado Springs was chosen for the honor. And the story of the hunt she shared with CPW Statewide Hunter Outreach Coordinator Bryan Posthumus would make Bulger proud.
I talked with Clara, her mother Melissa Johnson and Posthumus and heard a classic hunting story. It’s a story of determination, preparation, frustration and perseverance. I can’t wait to share the ending with you.
But first a little about Clara and why Posthumus selected her for the honor.
“I was looking for a hunter who was probably 14 or 15 and was coming from a relatively new-to-hunting family,” Posthumus said. “Someone who’s harvested at least one or two big game animals in the past. It demonstrates they’re able to shoot and they’re interested in doing it again.”
Clara was 15 and had already harvested a pronghorn, so she was a great candidate for the program.
But what sealed her as the choice for the Bulger Memorial Hunt was her answer to the question: “How will I use my interest in, or passion for hunting, and my past or future hunting experience, to inspire someone from any walk of life to give hunting a try?”
A Bright Future for Hunting
“I started hunting when I was 13,” Clara wrote. “There were times I wanted to quit, but I kept going and I am glad I did. I really enjoy all the fun stories, bonding time and experience of providing meat for my family to enjoy for a year.”
She went on to write of inspiring teens, especially other young women, to try hunting.
“Teenagers can be inspired by the idea that I harvest my own food and know where my hamburger came from,” Clara wrote. “In biology class, they can be inspired because I have first-hand knowledge from field dressing.
“Women can be inspired to try hunting because, as a female, we are not thought of as hunters. Most people think of hunting as a man’s sport when really anyone can do it. And, pink is legal if one doesn’t like orange! Ladies shouldn’t let being female stop them from wanting to explore the outdoors while hunting. Anyone can be inspired by a story of perseverance and harvesting their own food.”
I’m guessing her words would bring a smile to Bulger, who started the Hunter Outreach program for what was then called the Division of Wildlife. It is now part of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The Vision of a Dedicated Mentor
Before joining the wildlife agency, Bulger had a distinguished career in the Army. After retiring from the Army, he used his leadership skills and passion for hunting to build the Hunter Outreach program. Today, nearly 20 years later, the program reflects his vision and stands on the safe and ethical hunting principles he preached. His legacy lives on in the thousands of new hunters he encouraged, hundreds of volunteers he has trained, and so many staff he has mentored.
His lessons echoed in Clara’s words and her selection for the guided hunt and her entire family was thrilled at the news. Clara’s mom, Melissa, said the first thing she told her daughter was: “Call your grandpa.”
A Family First
Clara’s grandfather had been putting in for a moose tag for 30 years and still hadn’t drawn, so he was both happy for his granddaughter and a little bit jealous. He lent Clara his .308-caliber rifle for the hunt, which she diligently began practicing at the shooting range.
“She had been using a .243-caliber for pronghorn before,” said Posthumus. “So, to bump up to .308 is a jump. Putting that time in definitely paid off. She had confidence on the range when we did our pre-hunt range time. I was pretty proud of her, seeing that.”
Hunting the Silver Spur Ranch
They planned to hunt Sept. 12-14 in an area of the Silver Spur Ranch the property owners call “the zoo” because of all the wildlife that wanders through.
“The area is deceiving,” Posthumus said. “It’s a big wide creek – maybe 400 to 500 yards across – full of 15- to 20-foot-tall willows. It’s super thick. You wonder how a moose can move through there. Then you get in there and you see little paths. A bull moose we kicked up was only 25 yards away from us. It’s a cool area and full of wildlife, but it was challenging. Definitely a little different than hunting deer, elk or pronghorn.”
Clara’s mother, Melissa, accompanied them on the hunt,
“The moose are so elusive,” Melissa said. “By the time Bryan and Clara would look, they’d be gone. They’d see it somewhere else.”
In fact, they saw plenty of moose after multiple days of spotting and stalking moose through the willows. But they didn’t take a shot.
A Second Chance
They decided to return Oct. 22-23 to see if they would have better luck. As the light was fading on the last day of their hunt, they were set up on a hill as the time quickly approached when they’d have to leave for home. Would they go empty-handed again?
“I saw black movement,” Clara said. “It might have been 10 minutes before it came out. I got my crosshairs set up.”
Posthumus picks up the story.
“That moose was five moose steps away from being in a perfect 75-yard broadside shot,” Posthumus said. “It being the last day, that was kind of frustrating. But it was also exciting. Not everyone gets a chance to put crosshairs on a moose, legally.”
But the light was fading quickly, Clara said.
“It got to the point where I really couldn’t see that well,” Clara said.
That’s where her hunting ethics training kicked in. If you aren’t absolutely sure about your target, never take a shot. It’s just as Jim Bulger taught countless hunters.
“We called it off,” Clara said.
A Final Shot
Not only did she not get her moose, or even get off a shot, but bad weather was going to delay their drive home.
Ever heard about clouds having a silver lining? This storm certainly did. It gave Clara, mom Melissa and Posthumus one more chance to hunt moose. They would hunt the next morning until 11 a.m.
Again they spotted and stalked as the trio got to higher ground and glassed the willows. It wasn’t long before they found the same cow moose they had seen the night before.
“She stared at us just like the first time,” Melissa said. “Except now it was light and we had some time.”
Clara filled in the details.
“I think she was at about 90 yards,” Clara said. “Bryan said I could take my shot. I got really nervous at that point. I had to calm myself down. I took my time. It looked like she might be going to walk off, so I told myself I had to take it. I took my shot.”
Had she hit it? Had the storm and the extra hunting time paid off? Or was it just another disappointment?
She’d have to wait another 30 minutes to find out because the crack of the rifle sent the moose running into the willows. Soon they went in pursuit and found the moose.
“We saw it, but still had to be careful,” Clara said. “It’s such a big animal.”
It had been an excruciating 30 minutes but finally, they got their answer. Clara had harvested her moose. But they didn’t immediately get to work dressing their moose.
“We had a moment of thanks and gratitude for the whole experience,” Melissa said. “It’s a huge deal. It’s a huge responsibility to be the shooter and take a life and also to be thankful.”
Melissa said they took time to appreciate the animal and the profound experience they shared as a mother-daughter team.
“It’s all of the memory and experiences and teamwork out in nature,” Melissa said. “The moose really was lovely. The color. Her ears. Her silvery color on her legs. She was just beautiful. I was just thankful for the whole experience.”
There was one other little detail that made it even more special for them.
Clara would turn 16 the very next day.
“For a woman,” Melissa said. “it’s an empowering experience.”
Successful Hunter and Proud Mentor
Posthumus said he was incredibly proud of the young hunter. And it’s a safe bet Jim Bulger would admire her, as well. And his pride wasn’t just because she finally got her moose. It was about her decision the previous evening to turn down a shot knowing she might not get another opportunity.
“The decisions she made out there dealt a lot with hunting ethics and having respect for the animal,” Posthumus said. “When you pull the trigger, you want it to be a good situation, with a high chance of an ethical, clean kill.
“That cow had turned and had a quartering angle to us rather than broadside. With light going down at that angle, unless you get a heart shot, there’s a good chance of only getting a lung. That moose could disappear into thick willows. The light’s going down, the season’s going down. And to choose not to pull that trigger, that’s a special thing, right there. Very mature for a young hunter. Her hunt was a good example of what a hunter has to deal with.”
Jim Bulger Memorial Cow Moose Hunt
2020 Application Period: Closed
When can I apply? The hunt application is open June 1 – July 31 annually.
Details: Each year Colorado Parks and Wildlife in partnership with Silver Spur Ranches and Spur Outfitters, offers one youth hunter a free guided cow moose hunt near Walden, Colorado.
Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.