Alvarado teaches generations to hunt
PUEBLO» Behind every hunter’s first kill there’s a story — one that, for most, starts long before they ever set foot in a hunting zone with a shotgun, rifle or bow in-hand.
And while every firsttag story is, at the very least, marginally different, for 16,000 hunters who’ve bagged their first game in southern Colorado over the past 50 years, the story began the same way: sitting either in a classroom or on a firing range, being taught the fundamentals of hunting by volunteer hunter safety education instructor Jose Alvarado.
“Right now, I’m teaching the great grandkids of some of the first students that we taught,” the 84-year old Alvarado said. “I don’t know who they are when they come in, but they recognize me or recognize my name and come up and tell me, ‘My grandpa says to tell you hello. He took a class from you!’ ”
A self-taught hunter who seems to take as much enjoyment from connecting with others in the hunting community as he does from the hunt itself, Alvarado first began hunting regularly during his time as a CF&I Steel worker in the 1950s, when he and his peers at the mill would often take weekend hunting trips. It was those peers and co-workers who encouraged him to volunteer as scoutmaster for the local Boy Scout troop and eventually, as a hunter safety education instructor.
When Alvarado began teaching hunter safety education in 1967, the state of Colorado had vastly different regulations and, despite offering voluntary courses throughout the ’50s, saw an average of more than 10 fatal and 24 non-fatal hunting incidents per year from 1961-69.
“At the time, the state didn’t have any rules really as far as safety, and the fatality rate way back in the ’60s was tremendous,” Alvarado recalled.
“There was only really one season, and at that time you could buy a license and it included everything ... whatever you wanted to hunt, you could hunt. And there was really no safety aspects about it.”
In response to the high fatality rate, the Colorado legislature passed a measure requiring hunters to complete an education course beginning in 1970. Since then, the state has significantly reduced the fatality rate, averaging just one death per year from 2000 to 2015, due largely to the countless hours spent by volunteer educators like Alvarado.
Along with his longtime friend and teaching partner Paul McWhorter, Alvarado has played a pivotal part in developing the hunter education program in Pueblo over the past five decades.
“I’m not bragging, but Paul and I were pretty instrumental in really teaching the majority of the kids in the city,” Alvarado said. “He and I were really carrying Pueblo. Although we had other instructors that were here, they had other priorities and they didn’t teach as much as Paul and I.”
Not only did Alvarado help teach a large portion of the students from Pueblo, Walsenburg, La Veta, Wetmore and many other areas in southeastern Colorado, he helped lead the charge in getting the state to build the hunter-safety building near the Colorado State Fairgrounds.
The son of two Mexican migrants, the octogenarian even found a way to utilize his skills as a fluent Spanish speaker to give Hispanic students a chance to obtain their hunting licenses despite not being able to speak the language in which the course manual was written.
“Since I was fluent, I could teach the class in Spanish, so I used to go to Glenwood Springs to teach on weekends to the guys that wanted to hunt but couldn’t speak English,” Alvarado said. “So I went and helped them get through the program and get their cards so that they could hunt.”
In 1990, Alvarado’s years of hard work culminated in a prestigious recognition by the state: He was named Colorado’s hunter safety education instructor of the year, an award that, until recently, was perhaps the crowning achievement of his longtenured career.
Earlier this year, however, the Central High School class of 1951 graduate received another honor that he said surpasses all the rest: being the first hunter safety education instructor in Pueblo in the last 30 years to hit the 50-year milestone.
“I got other awards over the 50 years, but this is the last one and it’s the most impressive. I really like it,” Alvarado said, smiling fondly at the commemorative trophy sculpted in the form of a large elk.
“This is the first (50-year milestone award) in Pueblo in the last 30 years, ... that one right there is the most impressive. It’s the one that I’m going to cherish the most now.”