Colorado Parks and Wildlife cautions hunters to respect private land and avoid trespassing after a Grand County judge ordered Robert Johnson, 55, of Granby, to pay $11,653.50 in fines and court costs and perform 50 hours of community service in a sentencing hearing last Monday. Johnson, his wife and three accomplices trespassed onto the Devil’s Thumb Ranch and an adjacent property in Sept. 2014, killing a high-quality bull elk on Devil’s Thumb Ranch property during the illegal hunt.
Following a three-day trial earlier this month, Johnson was found guilty of one count of hunting without permission, one count of third degree criminal trespass and one count of illegal possession of wildlife with an additional penalty for the killing of the elk.
In Colorado, illegally killing or possessing a bull elk with six or more points on one antler beam can add $10,000 dollars in penalties to standard fines. Generally known as the ‘Samson law,’ it is named after a large bull elk killed by a poacher in Estes Park in 1995.
“As we gear up for the hunting seasons, this case should serve as a strong warning to hunters that trespassing is not tolerated by landowners,” said District Wildlife Manager Jeromy Huntington, who led the investigation. “Respecting private land is one of the most critical aspects of hunting and it’s up to the hunter to know where they are at all times.”
Johnson’s wife, Melissa Johnson, 42, of Granby, Boden Jump, 49, of Kremmling and the Johnson’s two guests, Rylan Everett, 26 and Abe Pierson, 36, both of Kansas, all received fines for their involvement in trespassing onto private property, leading to the illegal killing of the high-quality bull elk.
With the guidance of Robert Johnson and the others in the group, Everett, on his first Colorado elk hunt, fired the shot that killed the bull. The Kansas hunter pleaded guilty without deferment to hunting without permission, received a two-year deferred sentence on the charges of killing a high-quality bull elk, must perform 100 hours of community service, pay a fine of $377.50 and contribute $500 to Operation Game Thief – Colorado’s wildlife violation tip line.
According to investigators, Robert Johnson instructed Everett and the others to avoid detection by removing their legally required daylight fluorescent orange vests, pointing flashlights toward the ground and posting lookouts when removing the head and cape of the bull elk that evening. The group returned the following morning to recover the meat.
Melissa Johnson paid $258.50 in fines and court costs. Jump paid $199.50 in fines and court costs.
In an agreement with the district attorney’s office, Pierson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of hunting out of season and must pay $500 to OGT, perform 50 hours of community service and pay a fine of $229.50. As part of their plea agreements with the district attorney’s office, Everett, Pierson and Jump also agreed to testify truthfully during Johnson’s trial.
In addition to fines and court costs, the Johnsons and Jump each face the loss of their hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 43 additional Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact States, pending a review by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission Hearing Officer. Everett has already made his appearance and is awaiting judgement on the status of his hunting and fishing privileges. Pierson will not face a hearing.
“It can be tempting for hunters to risk entering private land, but I strongly advise not to do it,” said Huntington. “It is not worth the legal consequences just to fill your license.”
Huntington adds that private-land hunting is available in Colorado; however, he advises everyone to ask the landowner before hunting or pursuing wounded game onto private property.
“There are many resources to help hunters be sure they are legal,” he said.. “GPS units with software showing private land boundaries are readily available along with maps, and hunters can always call us for help.”
Huntington credits investigators with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado’s 14th Judicial District Attorney’s office for their assistance in the case.
Investigators learned of the violations through a tip to Operation Game Thief. To report suspicious wildlife activity, contact Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Verizon phone users can call #OGT. Rewards may be available if the information leads to a conviction.