Elk NetworkGiving the Gift of Elk Meat

General | February 17, 2022

Below is a news release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Louisville, Colorado resident Fleetwood Mathews, who lost his home in the Dec. 30 Marshall Fire, like so many in his city and those across the highway in Superior, is working to get back on his feet. One piece important to his recovery journey was replacing what was in his freezer.

Mathews moved to Colorado from Connecticut in 2002 for college where he graduated from the University of Colorado. While hunting wasn’t a family tradition, he picked up bowhunting seven years ago, and thanks to determination and local mentorship from a fellow hunter in Rifle, over the last four years he and his wife had transitioned to a more sustainable lifestyle.

“I was at the point where I didn’t have to buy any commercial red meat,” Mathews said. “All of the beef or elk that we had was either from a local Colorado rancher or from hunting. I haven’t bought a steak from the store in probably three or four years.”

So when he lost two freezers full of meat that feeds his family, and specifically the elk he had just harvested during last fall’s archery season, he was devastated. Mathews met Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Scott Reffel, a Park Ranger at St. Vrain State Park, the day he returned to see the destruction of his home post-fire, and it led to a unique opportunity.

Reffel had left the Mathews’ with his business card the day of their initial visit after the fire. Mathews, who is on the board of the Gamelines Archery Club in Boulder, reached out to a friend and Vice President of the club, who suggested he contact CPW to see if they could make something happen for him. So Mathews emailed Reffel regarding getting his late season list C elk hunting license reprinted so he could try to put some meat back in his freezer. Thanks to some friends in the hunting community, he was able to pick up a free freezer shortly after the fire.

“When I contacted CPW about my license, I also asked if someone might be able to point me in the direction of a problem herd in my unit,” Mathews said. “I had pretty low expectations about being able to fill my tag because it’s very easy to be pessimistic when your house and everything in it burns to the ground.”

That email sparked CPW staff to see what they could do to help the family out.

Wildlife officers had recently seized an elk carcass from an individual in illegal possession of the animal. When game meat is seized after unlawful activity and it is salvageable, wildlife officers will donate that meat to people and families in need.

So on Friday, Jan. 28, wildlife officer Sam Peterson delivered a whole elk to Mathews.

“I haven’t had a lot of interactions with CPW,” Mathews recalled. “I’ve called the hunt planners a few times and I’ve met a game warden once or twice. When I got the call from Sam a few hours after CPW emailed me back, I was shocked. I remember I was at the end of a very long day juggling being back at work and taking calls from the insurance company. To hear CPW was going to give me a whole elk reminded me that good things can still happen even when it feels like all is lost. CPW came through for me in a major way and I was so happy to meet Sam.”

This was not a common opportunity to be able to donate game meat out, but one that was rewarding to wildlife officers.

“Having responded to the Marshall Fire when it started, I cannot imagine the pain any families who lost their home are going through,” Peterson said. “The whole scene that day was very apocalyptic. When I heard a hunting family was looking for a helping hand, that was on the front of my mind a lot. That elk was in my truck for only about 10 minutes before I was making calls to track down Fleetwood. I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to help out such a nice and deserving family.”

When the Mathews went back to try and see what was left of their home, there was a hard closure of Dyer Road that they lived on because substantial hazards remained. Even that day – which was five days after the fire – Reffel and the U.S. Forest Service crews on site had to extinguish two hot spot fires that flared up. Reffel contacted the Mathews’ as they looked to get to their home site.

“I determined it was important for him and his wife and that it would be safe with me in the immediate area,” Reffel said. “I cleared the couple with the Incident Commander, who allowed them re-entry to view the home for the first time since it had burned.”

The Mathews were on an acre property and Fleetwood had a full archery range he practiced at in the back. They had two freezers that stored the elk he harvested back in September along with about ¾ of a beef from a local ranch. He recalled the only things left were the metal remnants of one of his archery targets and the charred frames of his freezers.

“When I went back to see what was left of my home, it looked like a warzone – like someone dropped napalm on our property,” Mathews said. “There was only ash and twisted metal. I spent a few minutes looking at my old freezers and all that was left were some charred bones and elk knuckles that I was going to make beef broth out of. I picked one of them up and it just fell apart in my hands. Beyond feeding my family, there were lots of memories associated with that meat and how I got it.

“I had a whole elk, but hadn’t even had the first backstrap steak yet. Last year, I worked with two local ranchers; I got a half beef from a buddy of mine with the archery club and another half beef from Flying B Bar Ranch out east – that beef was Colorado wagyu and I had been saving all the good cuts for a special occasion. It just crushes me to think that there was thousands of dollars of meat in those freezers.”

Now with the fresh elk meat supplied from CPW, Mathews said it will benefit his entire family.

“I love elk meat – my whole family does,” he said. “My buddy, Matt, helped me process it real fast and because I wasn’t in the field, we got to make some fun cuts. I’m beyond pumped. My mom is cooking the neck roast as we speak – she was just as excited as I was to get it. It’s going to feed everyone in the family in 2022.”

Though Mathews did not grow up hunting, he said it has now become a really big part of his life and identity.

“Learning to bowhunt has been one of the most character-defining moments of my life,” Mathews said. “It has tested me in ways few things can and forced me to learn and adapt. I look forward to spending some alone time in the woods every season. It is one of those very few times where no one can reach me and the decisions of the day and objective are simple. I’ve definitely matured and grown as a person as a result of it.”

Many law enforcement agencies and fire departments from across Colorado and beyond came to aid with emergency services the day of the fire and for weeks afterwards.

Six CPW wildlife officers from the Boulder County region and park rangers from Eldorado Canyon State Park responded the day of the fire.

In the days following the fire, CPW’s field services made contact with incident command and worked with Northeast Region staff to schedule officers 24/7 to assist for seven days post-fire. In all, 43 wildlife and parks officers responded from as far away as Rangely, Colo., and there were many more officers who volunteered to help than shifts available. These officers ran roadblocks, patrolled impacted neighborhoods and helped respond to calls.

(Photo credit:  Colorado Parks and Wildlife)