Poacher gets trapped

  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 Utah.

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 killed.

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 Hunter.

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."

* Christopher Smith

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