Death of Crawford hunting guide ruled an accident

A Crawford man who was guiding a group of hunters was shot in the head and died Tuesday after a member of the hunting party dropped a rifle, causing it to discharge, authorities said.

The death of James J. Ayer, 56, was ruled an accident, Montrose County Coroner Dr. Thomas Canfield said.

Montrose authorities were called around 11 a.m. Tuesday about an injured hunter near Gould Reservoir, which is south of Crawford, and received a second call 40 minutes later informing dispatchers the hunter had died.

“It was just a terrible, freak accident,” said Amy Peebles, Ayer’s daughter.

Peebles said investigators told the family her father was leading a group of hunters in a snowstorm near the reservoir, and Ayer slipped and started to fall down a steep hill. A man in the hunting party reached out to grab Ayer after slipping, Peebles said of law enforcement’s account. In the process, that man dropped his rifle, she said.

Ayer was a third-generation rancher whose family owns several thousand acres in Crawford and near Gould Reservoir, including the land where Tuesday’s incident happened, Peebles said. Ayer had been guiding hunters in the area since 1993.

Peebles said the family bears no ill will toward the hunter who dropped his rifle, a California man in his 30s.

“We’re praying that doesn’t happen,” Peebles said when asked about a criminal prosecution in the case.

Montrose County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kristin Modrell said while an investigation remains active, “No charges will be recommended to the DA at this time.”

Ayer is survived by his wife, Susan, and seven grandchildren and was active in Crawford’s American Legion Post and Elks Club, Peebles said.

The public is invited to a memorial service scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Crawford School.

Ayer’s death was the first accidental fatal shooting during Colorado’s big-game hunting season since 2006, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.


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