Hunter’s companion describes fateful day
Last month, neophyte turkey hunter Dean Swanson felt euphoric when he bagged his bird an hour into the opening of the spring season.Now, he’s been living a nightmare since the death of Jeff Garrett while they were out hunting with a third man May 14 near New Castle.After Garrett had taken his new friend Swanson pheasant hunting in Kansas last fall, “I was anxious to return the favor,” Swanson said.His chance came this spring, during turkey hunting season.Swanson, 66, lives in Wheat Ridge but is a part-time New Castle resident and a fishing guide for local outfitters.When he got his tom turkey April 9, “I felt like the king of the world,” he said.Though Swanson had shot his allotted turkey for the season, he was excited to show Garrett and a longtime hunting companion of Garrett’s around some good turkey terrain near New Castle.They hunted May 13 in the East Elk Creek area north of New Castle.
“We saw and heard turkeys, so we decided to go back the next morning,” he said.They spent the night at Swanson’s house before getting up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for the day’s hunt. Garrett got out of their vehicle where he had heard a turkey the day before, and then Swanson and the third man went about another mile away to hunt.That man got his turkey and was back at the vehicle about 9 a.m., but Garrett failed to return.After the two contacted authorities later that day, a Garfield County sheriff’s search and rescue team consisting of about 20 people was called in. With the help of a search dog, crew members found Garrett’s body around 7 p.m.Swanson praised the work of the search crew in the heavy brush where Garrett was hunting.”Without that dog, we couldn’t have had a prayer of finding his body,” he said.Garfield County sheriff’s investigators have ruled out Swanson and the third man as suspects, although Sheriff Lou Vallario said Saturday investigators will re-interview them as a matter of routine. Garrett was shot with a small-caliber bullet, while his companions were hunting with shotguns, as is required during Colorado’s spring turkey hunt. They also had a .38-caliber gun, which fires a larger bullet than what killed Garrett.Swanson said May 14 was “the world’s longest day” for him, between learning of Garrett’s death and initially being investigated as the possible gunman.
He said authorities searched the car the men went hunting in, to confirm they had no more guns. They continued to question the two until about 1:30 a.m. “That’s an emotional blow, you know, when your friend gets killed and you’re considered a suspect. But the sheriff’s department, they were doing their job,” he said.”I’ve got nothing to hide. I just want them to find that guy” who shot Garrett, Swanson said.Garrett’s uncle, Rick Lewis, said Garrett’s hunting companions have offered to take the family to the East Elk Creek area to help them understand what the two know of what happened.Investigators believe a turkey hunter shot Garrett by mistake while Garrett was calling turkeys.The theory makes sense to Swanson. And if it’s true, it means that someone apparently was illegally hunting for turkeys with a rifle even though shotguns are required during Colorado’s spring season, and that the hunter fired without verifying the target, Swanson said.The irony is that Garrett was a stickler for ethical and safe hunting, Swanson said.”He was kind of our safety policeman on the Kansas pheasant hunts,” Swanson said. “And he did it in a nice way where he didn’t make anybody mad.”
Swanson liked Garrett a lot. Had he had more time to spend with him, “he would have made my top circle of friends,” Swanson said.Swanson had guided Garrett on a fishing trip last fall before Garrett invited him to hunt in Kansas. Swanson had looked forward to meeting up with him again this month to learn about turkey hunting from him.Garrett’s other hunting companion served as a pallbearer at Garrett’s funeral. Swanson went to the visitation earlier in the week but couldn’t attend the funeral because of a previously scheduled flight to San Francisco to spend time with his brother.That trip “was pretty good therapy,” Swanson said.”I’m finally getting to sleep at night and getting this thing off my mind at least part of the time. It’s really brutal. I guess next to losing my mother and father this would be the third-worst (death) I’ve been through in my life,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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