Buckskin Network Enters 46th Year

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Ruth Wade, a Colorado State Patrol communications supervisor in Craig, doesn’t take the Buckskin Network lightly.

In cases of emergency, she asks hard questions: Where is your husband hunting exactly? What kind of vehicle is he driving? When was he supposed to return home? Is he carrying a cell phone?

She expects the public to provide good answers.

“We’ve had calls—I know it sounds crazy—from wives at home who want to get a message to their husband because they haven’t heard from him for 24 hours,” Wade says.

“The single most important thing (the public needs to know) is the Buckskin Network is for life-or-death emergencies.”

Colorado’s Buckskin Network, now in its 46th year, is a unique program involving law enforcement and media in a cooperative effort to assist the public in getting emergency messages to hunters in the field during big-game rifle seasons. The goal is to provide a reliable public service that connects hunters to their families in times of unexpected crises, such as emergency childbirth, serious accidents, or death.

Wade stresses that childbirth per se is not considered a Buckskin emergency, unless there is a serious mitigating medical factor.

“The husband knew she was pregnant before he left. If it’s that close to birth, maybe he should have rethought his hunting trip,” she says.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) also depends on the network to inform hunters of new developments and important hunting information. Last year, the DOW relied on the system to inform sportsmen about chronic wasting disease.

This year, the program runs from Oct. 11-Nov. 12. During that period, hunters can tune into one of 43 Colorado and New Mexico radio stations to listen for updates. Television stations in Craig, Crested Butte and Montrose and newspapers in Craig, Frisco, Durango, Gunnison, Telluride and Sterling also will participate in the program. Printed announcements depend on the frequency of publication.

Hunters with emergencies at home will have their name, state and hometown announced on commercial radio at least three times daily. Broadcast times will vary from station to station, but will occur as close to 6 a.m., noon and 8 p.m. as possible.

Anyone heading into Colorado’s back country for the hunting season should leave their families with complete vehicle information, including license plate numbers, hunting locations and their expected date of return. When plans change, hunters should notify their families of any new itineraries. Hunters also should find out which radio stations can be heard in their proposed hunting areas.

Proper preparation is part and parcel of any good hunting expedition. Well-prepared hunters should be aware of valuable communication resources, including the Buckskin Network, in case they need to reach someone—or need to be reached.

Hunters who hear their names and hometown announced immediately should call the Colorado State Patrol in Craig to receive a detailed message. State patrol officers note it is important to cancel received messages so valuable airtime can be conserved.

Frank Hanel, owner and general manager of KRAI Radio in Craig says the Buckskin Network has been phenomenally successful in getting important messages to hunters in years past.

“There’s no question it’s solved a lot of issues over time,” he says.

While the radio executive argues that widespread cell phone use has cut demand for the service, he nonetheless agrees hunters should not solely rely on wireless handsets.

Hanel and others acknowledge that mobile phones are not always dependable in remote, rugged parts of the state, where phone networks are not as robust and communications towers not as plentiful. In many rural areas, Enhanced 911 (E911) technology that enables law-enforcement officials to zero in on a lost or injured person calling from a mobile phone in an emergency is not yet readily available.

“If somebody comes from a big city and is using one of (the phones) that just doesn’t work out there, then the Buckskin Network is extremely valuable,” Hanel says. Wade concurs: Hunters should not lull themselves into a false sense of security just because they are carrying a cell phone.

“Cell phones are wonderful things. They’ve helped and assisted in getting help to a lot of people who need it. But people should not rely on them completely. People need to let others know where they are going and what time they will be back. And they need to hold to it,” she cautions.

For more information on the Buckskin Network, visit this web page, or call (970) 824-6501.