When the authorities cracked an extensive Utah cougar-poaching ring this fall, they got help from an unlikely source: the poachers themselves. The hunters, unaware that their guide didn't have the proper permits, documented their illegal hunts in photographs, videotapes and boastful magazine articles.
In mid-September, Colorado hunting
guide Samuel Sickels pleaded guilty to wanton destruction of
protected wildlife in Washington County, Utah, and was sentenced to
one week in jail, a $1,500 fine and 24 months probation. He also
faces more than 30 additional charges in Colorado and
Investigators say many of the hunts in
southwestern Utah were conducted in a "limited entry"
cougar-hunting unit, which can only be accessed by a 20-mile
snowmobile trail and is rarely patrolled by game wardens. Sickels
didn't have a permit for killing cougars there, but told his
clients - who paid $1,000 to $3,000 to participate in the hunts -
that the landowner wanted all cougars on his property
Videos and photographs taken by Sickels'
customers showed that the hunts were conducted in limited entry
areas, and one client printed the names of Sickels' associates in
magazine articles for Bowhunting World and Varmint
Authorities are not likely to pursue
charges against Sickels' clients. "We wanted to take care of Mr.
Sickels first," says Brent Langston, assistant attorney for
Washington County. "Most of the clients were basically ignorant
they were taking their cougar in the wrong area with the wrong
permit, since they depended on their guide to take care of that."