Colorado Division of Wildlife officers remain in contact with members of an Arkansas hunting party suspected of trespassing and illegally killing elk during the second rifle season last week.
Two hunters of the 8-member party from Mountain Home, Ark., have been cited and paid thousands of dollars in fines before leaving. Their cases have been "taken care of," according to Jim Haskins, a district wildlife manager based out of Hayden.
Another hunter from the group has been in contact with Haskins via telephone and has indicated he also will admit guilt and pay the fines he faces for two trespassing charges.
However, one Arkansas man, a former Colorado resident, has hired a lawyer in the matter. He faces numerous charges, including threatening an officer. He has been involved in trespassing incidents in the past. He was "very familiar" with land ownership patterns in the area, Haskins said.
He may have been the group's leader.
"Some (members of the Arkansas group), maybe all, were not familiar with property ownership in the area and were depending on this guy's knowledge to help them," Haskins said.
The group was camping along Elkhead Creek in an area known locally as the "potholes" on the boundary between public and private land in California Park.
The DOW began looking for them early in the second season after a guide on a private ranch reported the group's activities. Although camped on Forest Service land, it appeared that they hunted almost exclusively on three nearby ranches.
Haskins finally located the group several days later. He and another officer approached the hunters after the guide apprehended one of the suspects packing out a cow elk taken illegally on ranch property. On arrival at the camp, Haskins found a bull elk that also had been killed on private property. Both animals were taken from the hunters.
"We had a very bad situation in this hunting camp Thursday (Oct. 23)," Haskins said. "Most of our contacts are truly low-key and friendly, but this one (involved drinking) and got a little ugly."
Because of "issues" in the camp, including individuals who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, Haskins decided not to pursue the matter further that night. The hunters agreed to meet DOW personnel in Craig Friday.
The group proved evasive and uncooperative initially but when confronted with the detailed information the guide provided, several of them confessed. The guide's information was key to the case, Haskins said.
Between Monday, Oct. 20, and Thursday, Oct. 23, the guide observed members of the Arkansas party trespassing on three different ranches. He later led DOW officers to the locations where the elk had been taken. This offered the DOW an opportunity to collect DNA samples from the elk's entrails that could later link remains to carcasses the men had packed out.
Seeing they were caught, two of them met with officers Friday and cleared up their situations. They each paid fines of $137 for trespassing and $1,370 for illegally killing an elk.
Several members of the party showed up "later than anticipated" and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. Hoping to avoid a repeat of the previous night's events, Haskins made arrangements to meet the hunters Saturday. Two of the remaining suspects left Colorado sometime Friday night or Saturday morning before the scheduled meeting, Haskins said.
Four of the men are in jeopardy of losing their hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado.
While it doesn't represent the majority of DOW-hunter relations, last week's incident is not isolated. The DOW continues to investigate cases involving poaching and trespassing. Some hunters take advantage of the busy hunting seasons to commit wildlife crimes.
"That's one theory," said area Wildlife supervisor Dan Prenzlow. But he added, "I don't think a lot of people have a clandestine plan."
Prenzlow said the DOW has investigated several cases of illegal take this year. Some hunters simply make mistakes, Prenzlow said, and some appear to be opportunistic.
A recurrent and potentially problematic situation arises when hunters desperate even to see an elk on public property view great herds roaming on adjacent private land, Haskins said. Thousands of elk may be in plain view a short distance from a relatively dry public area.
It can entice even law-abiding hunters to attempt a quick shot and bag an animal on private property. They get tired of doing it the right way and hope to get away with it, Haskins said.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.