Elk NetworkSix Decades of Dedication

Bugle | December 19, 2023

Lasting Legacies

By Gentry Hale

Born in Greeley, Colorado, northeast of Denver, John Nelson grew up camping and fishing with his father and five younger siblings. But it wasn’t until his dad’s friends invited them hunting that he would catch the bug, first for deer and then elk. That would change his life.

John is now both a proficient hunter and an elk enthusiast. During the ‘80s, Colorado instituted a four-point restriction on bulls in the herd that he typically hunted in the Colorado Flat Tops. It increased the percentage of bulls in the herd significantly. “Before this we had just figured we weren’t that good of hunters. We had only taken a few bulls,” he says. But when the data came out, it showed that prior to the four-point restriction, less than 3% of the White River herd were bulls. But not long after the four-point rule took effect, more than a quarter of the herd were bulls. John says that over the decades he has brought an elk home every seven years on average.

Hunting is about more than just the kill for John. He loves the challenge, the camaraderie, the difficulties and the experience. Taking home meat is just an added bonus.

The last few years John has hunted alone, but it hasn’t slowed him down. “Everybody I used to hunt with has either departed this earth or moved away,” he says, but he finds solace in solo adventures.

John has been as successful in the business world as he has in the elk woods. In 1979, he started the manufacturing company Gem Industries in north Denver. His business has produced parts for laser engravers, wheelchairs, wheelchair lifts, huge snowblowers used to clear airport runways, firearm accessories and more. “If it’ll fit in the machines, we will try to build it!” says John.

John and his wife Ok Cha spend as much time as possible with their family and friends. “And, you know the older you get the more that means to you. Your family means more, you’re lucky that you have a few really good friends, you’re just lucky that you stumbled into that many good people. That’s pretty much how I look at life,” he says.

John and Ok Cha enjoy spending time in the beautiful Colorado mountains, hiking, fishing and camping. When not working or spending time in the woods, John likes to tinker with his vintage Toyota Landcruiser and work in the yard.

Though he’d elk hunted for years, John didn’t know about RMEF until he heard about it from his brother-in-law. Then he began noticing RMEF ads in other hunting publications. “I saw a membership mail‑in card in a magazine and joined up!” he says.

He fell in love with RMEF’s mission, especially its success in land protection. John quickly began making an impact on the organization. He started by sending donations a few times each year, and eventually received a personal card from Darren DeLong, RMEF’s central development director, thanking him for his contributions. “Seven or eight months later I ran across the card and decided to give him a call,” remembers John. “We visited for a while and talked about different ways to contribute and continue our support.”

John is very passionate about conserving important habitat, including winter range, migration paths and other vital elk habitat. In his view, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is the only organization that is absolutely committed to and working toward this goal.

The next time DeLong was in Colorado the two men met up in person. “I went into the office of his machine shop and we had a wonderful conversation, and he mentioned an IRA gift at that time,” says DeLong. RMEF members can choose to donate a charitable amount from their Individual Retirement Account (IRA) each year. This can help avoid income taxes owed on the amount donated and also satisfies their required minimum distribution (RMD) for the year. It may even reduce an individual’s taxable income by keeping them from bumping up into a higher tax bracket.

John chose to donate his contribution because of his love for elk hunting and desire to conserve land. He dreams of someday purchasing a large swath of land and placing a conservation easement on it to keep it as open space and habitat for wildlife.

“John is such a good guy, he really is,” says DeLong. “Every time I talk to him, I’m just like, man, we have so many good supporters and solid people. And he is one of them.”