EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Stories don't always have happy endings. In fact, most stories just - end. But Tred Barta's TV show, "The Best and Worst of Tred Barta," will finish up the way it ought to, in victory.
Barta and his wife, Anni, live up Salt Creek, southeast of Eagle. Barta makes his living selling private aircraft, but the lifelong outdoorsman for the past nine years also has been in the TV business. For nearly one-third of the show's run, the host has been in a wheelchair, after a 2009 "spinal stroke" left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Barta's last show is titled "Ground Zero." In it, he still relies on his trusty longbow and wooden arrows - this time tipped with hand-chiseled stone points. But the last show has a big difference from the others: For the first time in the show's run, Barta hunted on private property, the 400-acre Porter Ranch south of New Castle. The result was taking a large, eight-point (well, seven, really) bull elk.
"The object of the show was to show other (disabled) people they can do this," Barta said.
Even with an all-terrain "Action Trackchair" that can take him to much of the backcountry, Barta acknowledged it's virtually impossible for him to get into prime elk-hunting territory. For people in wheelchairs, hunting on a ranch is a real alternative.
"It's a tremendous asset for people with special needs," he said.
And it was still hard to get an animal, Barta said.
"For me, being paralyzed, it was an incredible challenge - we hunted hard for three days."
Barta only has a few degrees of motion shooting his bow, so an animal has to be in the right spot, at the right distance - inside 20 yards or so. Hunting from a tent blind helped. But friend and arrow-maker Lare Ferguson also helped, marking where Barta's sweet spot would be for a good shot and then using a cow call to get the big bull in range.
Everything worked - this time - and Barta got an elk for the first time in the 28 times he's tried since being disabled.
Anni happened to be driving to the ranch when Barta let his arrow fly. She saw the arrow hit and elk run a bit before coming back near its original spot and dropping - a clean, quick kill.
Barta said he's dedicated this hunt to all those in the valley who have helped him through the past three years, from the doctors at Vail Valley Medical Center and Shaw Regional Cancer Center to the staff at Northstar Urology and Tom Palic, the local chiropractor who carried Barta into the emergency room in Vail in 2009.
"They saved my life," he said. "They refused to let me die."
Barta has the animal's antlers in the yard of his home. He has to point out the small eighth points on both sides of the rack - "if I can hang my keys on it, it's a point," he said - but the animal's carcass is still being tested for various diseases by state officials. That's standard procedure in the domestic elk business.
The end of the show is bittersweet for the Bartas - it has taken the couple to various exotic locations, and Barta has learned new skills, including scuba diving. But three years after Barta learned he'd be in a wheelchair the rest of this life - the same year he was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer - the Bartas have accepted the end of this adventure.
But there are more adventures to come. There could be more TV in the Bartas' future, and Tred is looking forward to trying to fill a private-land elk license this fall.
And, after being so close to death in 2009, Barta has nothing but praise for the people in the valley who have treated him and helped him stay outdoors - from skiing to fishing to hunting and more.
"You wouldn't think the Vail Valley would be a good place to be paralyzed, but it's one of the best places in the world," he said. "It's not about how good you are but that you're trying."
Anni agreed, saying, "Getting out and doing it is what matters."