Craig man pleads guilty to poaching bighorn

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A Craig man faces the possible loss of hunting privileges for the remainder of his life after pleading guilty in May to poaching a bighorn ram in southern Moffat County.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife released the details of the case Friday, which reveals the lengths to which wildlife officers had to go to collect evidence.

Shane Baker, 33, of Craig and Seth Campbell, 33, of Fort Morgan pleaded guilty in Moffat County District Court on May 26 to charges of illegal possession of wildlife, waste of wildlife, hunting without a proper and valid license and tampering/destruction of evidence.

Baker and Campbell, who are cousins, were assessed fines of $15,599 each.

Baker said Friday that he has a year to pay the fine. He was disappointed that the DOW had issued a press release in the case. He said wildlife officers told them they would keep the incident out of the press. But he said he would do whatever he could to retain his hunting privileges.

"(Hunting is) pretty much my only hobby," he said.

According to the DOW, the pair killed the ram Dec. 6 while hunting cow elk in the Axial Basin.

Baker told investigators that Campbell shot and wounded the ram, but that he -- Baker -- had finished the animal off with his rifle.

The bighorn ram was a rarity. In the weeks before it was killed, several people had spotted it and reported it to the district wildlife manager. It had a trophy-sized curl, but wildlife officers weren't able to document the exact size of the horns before it went missing, said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.

"This was, to our knowledge, the only bighorn sheep in Axial Basin," he said.

The cousins loaded the dead animal into a pickup and transported it to the home of Shane Baker's father, who lives north of Craig.

Baker told investigators that his father was very angry that the illegal animal had been brought onto his property.

Now frightened about the illegal killing, the cousins went about cutting up the ram in an effort to destroy the evidence, Hampton said.

According to Baker's statement to investigators, pieces of the ram were disposed of in the Moffat County landfill, while the ram's horns and skull were cut up with a saw, crushed, and scattered along a county road.

Wildlife Officer Bailey Franklin received a tip from an informant about the killing and began investigating.

Through numerous interviews, he developed a list of suspects in the case. An interview with Baker led to the confession and the whereabouts of evidence, Hampton said.

Franklin spent several hours searching for evidence through deep snow along the county road where Baker said he had disposed of the horns and skull. Franklin was able to find a piece of the ram's horn that was large enough to send to the Wyoming Game and Fish Laboratory.

"We were able to use that evidence to genetically link the ram to another group of bighorns," Hampton said.

Baker and Campbell now face a decision on their hunting privileges. They will be offered a hearing before a Division of Wildlife hearing officer who will make recommendations to the Colorado Wildlife Commission.

"The commissioners are the only ones who can actually take away hunting privileges," Hampton said.

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