Several hunters were cited Wednesday for hunting deer and elk with guns during archery season in the Big Red Park area north of Steamboat Lake.
District Wildlife Manager Jason Trousdale said local Colorado Division of Wildlife officials had been gathering information about a group of Arkansas hunters that frequents the area and was suspected of hunting illegally.
Trousdale said the men were confronted during an undercover operation involving several DOW officials camping near the men.
"This was hours of surveillance, no showers and eating cold food at night," he said. "We would spend 14-hour days looking for blood trails or kill sites to get these guys."
Trousdale said the men were confronted at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday after several officials saw them drag a deer into the campsite and gut it. Officers waited at the campsite until the men returned and then issued citations.
The men, ages 23 to 57, are from Arkansas and have been hunting here for several years.
They are Greg Hunter, James Lockhart, Colton Wiles, Bobby Copelin and James Williams Jr.
Trousdale said the men were cited because they were hunting deer and elk illegally by using rifles and shotguns during archery season.
Trousdale said the men had a habit of purchasing small-game licenses from Wal-Mart and hunting under the guise that they were hunting grouse. After the men killed the deer and elk with guns, they would purchase a big-game license so it looked like what they were doing was legal.
Trousdale said DOW officers have been able to track the hunters' methods for several years and received information from a confidential source about when the hunters were planning to return to Colorado.
On Sept. 2, Trousdale found one of the hunter's vehicles and followed it to the Wal-Mart parking lot, where he discovered that three of the suspects had purchased small-game licenses.
Undercover officers observed the men during a five-day period before approaching their camp.
"We never saw them kill an animal, but we did see them harvest the animal and unload the meat," he said.
This year, the hunters illegally killed one deer and one elk, Trousdale said. Last year, the hunters illegally killed a deer with a rifle, and in 2003, they illegally killed an elk with a shotgun.
Trousdale said the men were calm and compliant when officers interviewed them.
"I think they knew right off the bat that they were in trouble," he said.
Instead of arresting the men, DOW officials gave them the option of paying the citation fees, an option each of the men took.
In total, the men paid more than $10,300 in fines for a variety of charges including illegal possession of an elk, hunting without a proper deer license, wasting game meat, fishing without a license, illegal manner of taking, transferring unlawful licenses and receiving unlawful licenses. Each hunter did not face the same charges as the others, Trousdale said.
Trousdale said the men will be contacted in the future by a DOW hearings officer who will invite them to tell their sides of the story before an official decides how long to suspend their hunting privileges.
The men face one- to five-year suspensions of their hunting privileges, but Trousdale thinks that because the men have been hunting illegally for so long, the suspensions could be more extensive.
"I hope this sends the message to other hunters that we are out there watching what goes on. We don't just drive around all day like most people think we do," he said. "Hopefully, this does change some behavior."
-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234 or e-mail email@example.com.