Two Gunnison County men who killed at least two elk illegally will pay $2,700 in fines and could lose their Colorado hunting privileges.
The elk were killed in Gunnison County about halfway between Lake City and the town of Gunnison during the third week of November in 2006.
In a plea bargain, Larry McGraw, 49, of Gunnison paid $1,988, was assessed 30 penalty points against his hunting privileges and forfeited his rifle. Thomas McGraw, 21, of Crested Butte, admitted guilt to DOW officers, paid $616 and was assessed 35 penalty points.
Hunters can lose their license privileges if they accumulate 20 points or more. An administrative hearing will be held later this year to determine if the men will lose their ability to buy hunting and fishing licenses.
A tip made to the Colorado Division of Wildlife from other hunters in the area led to the charges.
“The hunters who told us about the suspicious activity in the area truly care about Colorado’s wildlife,” said J Wenum, area wildlife manager in Gunnison. “Without their report, we probably wouldn’t have caught these guys.”
According to the DOW incident report, the McGraws were sitting on a cliff when they spotted a herd of elk below them. The men started shooting indiscriminately – up to 30 shots were reportedly fired. They then went down and tagged and field dressed two cow elk. The men had cow tags for the area.
Unfortunately, their careless shooting resulted in several other elk being hit.
Observant hunters nearby heard the gunfire and contacted the DOW. When wildlife officers arrived on the scene they found a dead 5×5 bull that had been shot.
“The guys who fired all these shots walked right by the bull, they just let it go to waste,” Wenum said.
Besides the dead bull, DOW officers found blood trails that indicated that five or six other animals had been shot. Officers also tracked and spotted a wounded calf. Two days later they found a cow that had died of wounds.
Based on witness descriptions and license information, DOW officers located the men the next day in Gunnison and Crested Butte.
“The witnesses provided the wildlife officers with excellent, detailed information,” Wenum said.
Thomas McGraw was issued a citation and was charged with failing to care for edible portions of a game animal; failing to attempt to locate and take possession of injured wildlife; and hunting without a fluorescent garment. He paid his fine a week after receiving the citation.
Larry McGraw, through a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office, pled guilty to unlawfully taking a 5X5 bull elk and failing to care for and provide for the human consumption of edible portions of elk. He was also required to give up a family heirloom - a .284 caliber rifle to the DOW. The gun will be destroyed. He will also make a $200 donation to Operation Game Thief.
Wenum explained that hunters are responsible for choosing targets and shooting carefully.
“When you’re in the field you must be certain of your target and what’s beyond it,” Wenum said. “If you shoot multiple times the odds increase that you’re going to shoot other animals. We stress that you should try for a one-shot kill.”
Wenum also said that hunters should not try to cover up mistakes they make in the field. Field dress all animals that have been killed, tag the animals properly and then report the incident to the DOW. A wildlife officer will go to the scene to investigate.
“We know that mistakes happen. If someone self reports and is sincerely apologetic we have a lot more discretion in the types of charges that we file,” Wenum said.
This case might have gone unnoticed if nearby hunters hadn’t made a report to the DOW. To report poaching or illegal activity related to wildlife, call Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648. Reports can be made anonymously and rewards may be offered.