What Happens When You Hunt in the Wrong Game Management Unit
Colorado Hunters are hard at work planning their hunts for next year ahead of the state’s April 4 deadline for big game applications. A case from neighboring Wyoming, however, shows why it is so important to scout your Game Management Unit (CMU) ahead of time. Two men who appeared on the Pursuit Channel’s show “Hunting in the Sticks” have pled guilty to poaching two bull elk in Southeastern Wyoming. Ricky J. Mills and Jimmy G. Duncan, both from Bedford, Kentucky, travelled to Wyoming in 2014 to hunt elk. The two men applied and received elk tags to hunt in Elk Hunt Area 51, which is Northwest Wyoming, bordering Yellowstone National Park. However, one show viewer noticed that the elk they harvested came from Elk Hunting Area 113, which is in the Southeast portion of the state. Elk Hunting Area 113 is a “trophy” unit, meaning that hunters wait years for permission to hunt bull elk there. Hunting in this region is so restricted that only a handful of permits are approved every other year. The tip from the concerned citizen was enough to launch an investigation. After collecting evidence from the kill site, both men confessed to the crime. "I believe the two defendants were driven to get kill shot footage for the television show and that resulted in their making bad decisions," explained Mike Ehlebracht, investigative supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish. “This case could not have been made without the assistance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources agents.” Each man was forced to pay $7,500 in fines, $6,000 in restitution for the illegally harvested Elk, and $240 in court costs. The two also surrendered the elk mounts to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Poachers are always forced to relinquish trophies from their illegal hunts. Additionally, Jimmy Duncan was forced to pay an additional $4,000 in restitution after the investigation uncovered he also poached an antelope in 2013. Both were entered into the Wildlife Violator Compact and are prohibited from hunting in 43 states for the next 15 years. While this case was limited to Wyoming, it is an important reminder for Colorado hunters to pay attention when applying for GMU-specific hunting permits. Both the hunter and the prey must be within the permitted unit in order for a hunt to be legal. Even if you have hunted the same GMU for years, it is important to survey up-to-date maps before going on your hunt. For example, starting in 2017, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has officially changed the boundaries of Units 16 and 27 (East of Steamboat). Additionally, sometimes units are added or removed for certain species, depending on herd estimates. One easy way to stay on the right side of the law is to apply for permits that are not GMU specific. Third Season Elk, for example, is over-the-counter and unlimited. Hunters can choose from dozens of GMUs to hunt on, allowing them to hunt on the border of some units without fear of crossing into another. The most important thing to remember from this case is that hunting is a privilege. As a part of that privilege, hunters are required to hunt ethically and legally. The consequences for poaching are serious, even if accidental. Both Mills and Duncan paid thousands of dollars in fines and relinquished their right to hunt for at least 15 years. For hunters, losing the right to hunt is far worse than any fine or loss of trophies. But the damage done to hunting’s image can be even more damaging. Colorado Parks and Wildlife established a Turn in Poachers (TIP) Program in 2004. Coloradans who turn in poachers receive preference points and even licenses for information leading to an arrest. The Operational Game Thief (OGT) Program also offers cash rewards for anyone who turns in a poacher. Anyone can file a poaching report by calling 1-877-COLO-OGT.