Illegal Outfitter Fined; Hunters Reminded to Hire Only Registered Outfitters

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As hunters prepare for the 2008 big game season the Colorado Division of Wildlife advises those who are considering using guides to be sure that they hire outfitters who are registered with the state of Colorado. Hunters who hire illegal guides could lose thousands of dollars, unknowingly violate hunting regulations and even lose their hunting privileges in Colorado and 25 other wildlife compact states.

Prospective outfitters who are considering guiding hunters should be sure to register with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. Illegal outfitters could be given substantial fines, lose their hunting privileges and even face jail time.

The case of a Durango-area man convicted of outfitting illegally for the second time late in 2007 illustrates the potential dire consequences for hunters and unscrupulous guides. Clarence W. Miller, a La Plata County resident, pleaded guilty to a Class 6 felony in October 2007, was ordered to pay $19,242 in fines and served 30 days in the La Plata County jail. As a convicted felon he is not allowed to carry a firearm or a bow, therefore he will never be able to hunt legally again.

“We take illegal outfitting violations very seriously and we will prosecute those breaking the law to the fullest extent,” said Tom Spezze, southwest regional manager for the DOW.

This was a very complicated case that required nearly two years of investigation. Colorado Wildlife Officer Cary Carron interviewed more than a dozen people and followed leads in several states.

“This is the kind of case that requires outstanding game warden’s instincts and tenacity,” said Patt Dorsey, area wildlife manager in Durango. “Carron is a veteran officer who stayed on a tough trail to get this conviction.” 

Miller’s violations started in 2004 when he was convicted for the first time for guiding hunters illegally because he was not registered with the state of Colorado. He was charged with a misdemeanor for the first violation. After that conviction he continued to solicit hunters, even though a second violation would be charged as a felony.

The most recent case against Miller started during the 2006 hunting season when a private landowner found a California man hunting on his property southwest of Durango without permission. The hunter said that he had hired Miller to act as a guide. Miller had brought him to the property and told him the landowner had given permission.

DOW officers looked up records from the previous conviction and found that Miller had charged hunters $3,500 each to serve as a guide.

The investigation continued into 2007 and DOW officers learned of hunters from Michigan who had hired Miller through a private broker. According to the investigation, Miller had promised the men that they would hunt on private land south of Pagosa Springs. When the hunters met Miller in Durango he told them that the private land wasn’t available and instead took the men onto other private land, to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and to BLM land to hunt.

One of the men complained to the DOW and the investigation into Miller’s actions grew. The hunters were charged at least $2,000, according to the investigation. All of the men provided statements to the DOW officers investigating the case.

Miller eventually entered a guilty plea on Oct. 26, 2007, in district court in Durango. He started serving his jail term on Jan. 15, 2008.

To operate legally, Colorado outfitters must register with the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, explained Tim Mikesell, president of the Colorado Outfitters Association and owner of M&M Outfitters in Craig. The association has 170 members.

Registered outfitters are not required to be members of the association.

Mikesell explained that anyone hiring a hunting guide should ask for the outfitter’s state registration number and to get copies of any public land permits the guide says he holds. Hunters also should require a contract that details the services that will be provided.

“If you deal with an illegal outfitter your hunt could be cancelled and if you have game it can be confiscated,” Mikesell said. “There are plenty of good outfitters in the state that operate legally.”

Hunters also must understand that vouchers for private land hunts can no longer be purchased through a broker. They must purchase the vouchers directly from the property owners, and the landowners must allow hunting on their property.

To check on any outfitters’ Colorado registration, go to the web site www.dora.state.co.us/outfitters; or call (303)894-7799.

To view a list of guides who are members of the Colorado Outfitters Association, go to: www.Coloradooutfitters.org. All members are registered with the state.

Anyone who has concerns about an outfitter should contact the nearest DOW office or call Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648.