By Chris Rourke
Courtesy of The Gunnison Country Times
Gunnison couple have maintained small ‘elk ranch’ for two decades
Sandy Jackson says that for as long as she’s known her husband, Scott, he’s been a "crazy elk nut." And she knew what was in store more than 20 years ago when they found out the state of Colorado would let them own elk of their own.
She admits, however, that she loves working on their elk ranch on the outskirts of Gunnison just as much as he does.
The Jacksons own eight elk that roam the large fenced fields behind their home. They began their adventure more than two decades ago by talking for hours on end with people experienced in "elk ranching."
And when they felt ready, they took the plunge and bought a bull and two cows from a ranch in Montana. Over the years, they’ve had 57 animals, with as many as 17 elk at one time.
They soon found out that a herd that size was just a little too much for them.
"With that many, it became a job," says Sandy, who is the bakery manager for City Market. Scott is a longtime deputy with the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office.
"We spend about an hour a day down here on average," she continues. "When we had 17 animals, we were spending...a couple of hours being down here every single day. So we had to get that number down."
The Jacksons are specially licensed under the USDA to own the great wapiti. They have numerous regulations they have to comply with to maintain their herd.
To sell and transport one or more of their animals to another state requires an abundance of time, patience and paperwork.
"States with wild elk herds have some pretty strict restrictions. I think I had 14 different documents that I had to have in order to take [elk] to Utah," explains Sandy. "I’m good to follow all the rules, and want everyone else that’s in it to follow all the rules too, because it makes for a better business for everybody."
And a business it is, no matter how much they love their animals. It was a business decision that led to the sale this week of their prized eight- by eight-point bull elk, Kitson, the son of their original bull, Kit.
"They're ready to go when they start getting real ornery and they’re tough to deal with," explains Scott. "You hate to see it.... He was born down here, and you kind of get attached to them. We’ve enjoyed watching them being born and raised and the antler development and the cows getting older and that kind of thing. It’s fun to watch. But in the end, it’s business, so they have to go."
The Jacksons will be the first to tell you that it’s their love for the species that keeps them going. In the evening, you will oftentimes find Scott and Sandy sitting down by the elk in their green plastic lawn chairs, just watching them.
They know the elks’ habits and their personalities — how much they eat, and when it's time for the rut. They enjoy the sound of bugling right from their own backyard.
The Jacksons say not everyone is happy with what they do. According to them, there are some who think it’s unkind of them to keep these wild animals in fenced fields.
The Jacksons’ answer to the naysayers is that these animals live a better — and longer — life than they would in the wild.
They caution the curious passing by (there is a trail that runs near the property), who may be tempted to get too close to the fence line, especially when the elk are in rut, that these are still wild animals.
At the same time, they’ve been very kind to entertain the requests of visitors who want to see this Colorado native up close. They love what they do, and they like to share it with others, much like proud parents do.
"[Scott] was the initial instigator on all of it, but he had a 100% buy-in by me from the get-go," Sandy grins. "I’m down here as much as he is. We’re down here working on the fence, working on the animals. And the calves, when we have babies, they’re my deal.
"We do it together. It’s definitely a labor of love."