Al­varado teaches gen­er­a­tions to hunt

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Zach Hill­storm

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.”

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