An outfitting adventure

Couple takes over hunting business near Oak Creek

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— Wendy Palyo was unpacking boxes in her family's new home in Keensburg when her husband walked through the door and announced they were probably moving.

The couple had just finished building their home on 320 acres in rural Colorado. Jules Palyo, Wendy's husband, had a good job working in her father's aircraft manufacturing business. The couple had three children and were happily married, but something was missing.

"He couldn't handle the desk thing," Wendy said. Jules spent nights and weekends working his hay farm "just to stay sane," he said.

Both Wendy and Jules grew up in rural Colorado. In high school, Jules took a job as a horse trainer and was spoiled forever, he said. He wanted to work outdoors and he wanted to work for himself.

When Oak Creek realtor Donna Corrigan told Jules about an outfitting business for sale, he drove straight home with his fingers crossed.

"We talked about it for two minutes," Wendy Palyo said.

Jules, who had been in Oak Creek looking for a small cabin or other summer-time property, never dreamed he'd come home with a business in mind instead.

Corrigan told him about a company called Pack Country Outfitters, owned by a Vail man who had been guiding hunts in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area for 23 years.

The owner lived in Vail year round, hired all his guides from Vail, bought his supplies in Vail, and even though he hunted around Yampa, few people in South Routt had ever heard of him or Pack Country.

The Palyos repacked their boxes in the summer of 2000 and moved into a rental house in Yampa to take over their new outfitting business.

"The owner said that several people approached him to buy the business, but he chose us because we didn't want to turn it into a huge commercial business," Jules said. "We want to cater to the average hunter."

Once they were settled, the couple found 52 acres off of Twentymile Road and started to build a home there.

"It's the closest we've ever lived to town in our lives," Jules said. "It's only five minutes to town. It's really strange."

Jules wanted to build the house himself, but hunting season was about the start and he had other work to do.

Pack Country Outfitters came with two cabins near the Little Flat Tops Wilderness, hunting permits and two guides from the Eagle Valley.

"We have a 60- to 70-percent return rate and hunters request guides that they've had before," Jules said.

The bulk of new business comes from Cabella's big game catalogue.

All the Pack Country trips are non-motorized. Hunters use the horses to bring supplies in and elk out of camp. Hunting itself is done on foot.

"There is elk within a quarter mile of the camp, so even guys who aren't in the best shape have good success," Jules said.

The previous owner brought all-terrain vehicles into camp that scared off the elk, Jules said.

"Now hunters say that they have never seen so many elk around here," he said. "We have walked right up to one elk with our horses."

Pack Country employs four full-time guides and wrangler Todd Weigel, who Jules met in farrier school.

"He always dreamed of being a wrangler, but didn't know how to get involved," Jules said.

After the first season, Jules had the opportunity to expand and he took it. Chuck Wisecup put his small outfitting business, Mill Creek Outfitters, up for sale. Wisecup's permit was for land adjacent to Pack Country's permitted land.

Buying the company of a well-known Oak Creek local instantly propelled the Palyos onto the local radar.

"Being small town people, we believe in buying as much of our supplies as we can in town," Jules Palyo said. "But Pack Country never did business in Oak Creek before so everyone thought we had just come out of nowhere."

During their second season, business was good but the number of hunters went down due to an outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease.

"We got three guides certified to take CWD samples," Jules Palyo said. "We were not in an area where we had to, but it made our hunters feel better." Pack Country took small samples so that the hunters did not have to send the animal heads away.

The samples went to the University of Wyoming in Laramie and all tests came back negative, Jules said.

Despite the small worries that came with the new business and CWD, Jules is living his dream.

"I love being outdoors in the mountains," he said. "I've always been on a horse in the woods and I can't believe I am getting paid to do this."

For years before they bought the business, Jules Palyo would take his friends hunting for a two-week annual trip.

"After they got back, that's all he would talk about for months," Wendy said.

Last season, for the first time, Wendy Palyo got a chance to see what all the excitement was about.

Jules took his wife hunting for her first elk during rifle season.

"We were on the elk's trail for two days and on that second day she got a clear shot," he said.

Wendy plans to go again next year, but, "I think I'll take pictures instead," she said.

Now that hunting season is over, the Palyos rent the two cabins to cross country skiers and snowmobilers. There is a hot tub on the deck, electricity and running water.

Jules makes his living during the off-season as a horse farrier and odd-job snowplower.

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