Disgraced Hunter, Guide Sentenced For Wildlife Crimes

Weekly news, tips, trivia, fun facts, and wild tales from the outdoors

Jan. 21, 2009

Disgraced Hunter, Guide Sentenced For Wildlife Crimes
A once-prominent big game hunter and guide whose name and image appeared regularly
in national hunting publications and advertisements for hunting rifles in the
1970s and 80s will never again hunt, fish, or be allowed to own a firearm. This
week, you’ll also read about Kentucky’s first bear hunt in a century, and a
successful urban deer bowhunt in Wisconsin.

Once Prominent, Now Disgraced
Once one of the country’s best-known hunting celebrities, the now-disgraced
Kirt Darner, 69, was sentenced on January 12 in Cibola County New Mexico
District Court to 4,500 hours of community service, fined $10,000, and ordered
to pay an unspecified amount of restitution to the New Mexico and Colorado game
agencies and a Colorado taxidermy business.

J.R. Absher

Darner, who pleaded guilty in June 2008 to charges of illegally transporting
wild elk to his New Mexico ranch and receiving stolen bighorn sheep heads,
faced a maximum penalty of four years in jail. As part of his plea agreement,
he is prohibited from hunting, fishing or possessing firearms for life.

Darner was indicted by a grand jury in 2006 on 41 felony and misdemeanor
counts, including receiving stolen property, transportation of stolen livestock,
and tampering with evidence. He was originally charged with illegally moving
four state-owned elk from his Lobo Canyon Ranch in Grants, N.M., to another
ranch and game park in southeastern New Mexico in 2002. In addition, a search
warrant served in 2005 on the Darner property in New Mexico uncovered a desert
bighorn sheep head and a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep head that had been stolen
from a Montrose, Colo., Taxidermy shop in 2000.

Previously, in Colorado, Darner was convicted of illegal possession of
wildlife in 1994. In 1999 he was convicted of second degree tampering with
evidence and careless driving in an incident in which he was serving as an
outfitter. At that time, Colorado Division of Wildlife officers observed
Darner’s client shoot at an elk decoy in a game management unit for which the
client didn’t have a license.

Darner gained prominence as a hunter and guide with an affinity for massive
mule deer bucks in the 1970s and 80s. When photographic evidence revealed a
mule deer Darner claimed to have shot was actually taken by another Colorado
hunter 40 years earlier, his entries in the Boone and Crockett Club record book
were subsequently expunged.

Though Cibola County Deputy District Attorney Randolph Collins was
unsuccessful in his effort to see Darner’s latest sentence include prison time,
his argument to the court ironically included an excerpt from Darner’s 1983
book, “How to Find Giant Bucks.”

"Penalties for game violations are not stiff enough," Darner’s
book stated. "There should be minimum fine and mandatory jail sentences
for some crimes, such as shooting a deer out of season. Second offenders should
get very stiff, mandatory penalties. If a potential violator knew he’d get a
$1,000 fine and a minimum of 30 days in jail for shooting a buck out of season,
he’d find more strength to resist the temptation."

The Deputy DA’s memorandum to the court accurately summed up how a lot of
sportsmen feel about the once-iconic figure of the big game hunting community.

"The book title (“How to Find Giant Bucks”), now given his conduct in our
county and his quest to put his profit above all else, has double meaning —
how to find giant bucks is really, for him, how to make a lot of money by
violating the law."

Lawmakers Approve Kentucky’s First Bear Hunt
In 100 Years!

In action last week, Kentucky legislators approved a regulatory amendment that
will create Kentucky’s first black bear season in more than a century!

"Sportsmen and sportswomen of Kentucky should be very excited,"
said Steven Dobey, black bear biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and
Wildlife Resources. "Bears are now well established in eastern Kentucky
and research shows that population growth has risen steadily over the last 20

Supporters hope the December 2009 hunt will help restore a fear of humans to
the large animals that have increasingly become a nuisance for some people
living in the state’s mountain region.

Some bears have become brazen, chasing tourists from campsites, raiding
garbage cans, and, in one instance, charging deer hunters, said Rick Allen,
president of the Kentucky League of Sportsmen, a hunters organization that had
been pushing for a season for the past three years.

"The 2009 hunt quota is a conservative one of 10 bears, or 5 females,
whichever limit is reached first," said Dobey. "The two-day season will
occur on the third weekend in December and bears may only be hunted within a
three-county bear zone of Harlan, Letcher, and Pike counties. Research clearly
shows that Kentucky’s bear population can sustain a hunt."

A $30 black bear permit for the inaugural hunt will be available only to
Kentucky residents. All bears harvested must be Telechecked and taken to a
department-operated check station. The season will be closed when the quota is
met. Baiting and the use of hounds will be prohibited.

Wausau, Wis., First Urban Bowhunt A Success
Following its first special urban archery hunt to help manage a problematic
deer population inside the city limits, officials in Wausau, Wis., say they
were extremely pleased with the results and hope to continue the effort with
future hunts.

Bowhunters harvested 45 deer during a special hunt held in selected areas of
the city from September 13 to November 20 and December 1 to January 4.

Citing the city’s growing deer herd and 140 car-deer crashes recorded since
2002, the Wausau City Council approved an ordinance to establish the hunt
earlier in 2008.

In mid-October, Wausau Police Lt. Bill Kolb said he hoped to see between 20
and 30 deer harvested during the hunt.

"This exceeded expectations," Kolb told the Wausau Daily Herald.
"This is not a one-year effort. It’s going to take several years (to thin
the herd)."

According to city figures, 69 registered bowhunters participated in the
hunt. Of the animals killed, 38 were does and seven were bucks.

When the ordinance was being debated, some city leaders and residents voiced
concerns about the safety of permitting bowhunting in residential areas. The
hunt did not yield a single trespassing complaint or injury, Kolb said.

"I think we’ve made good progress," said Dave Erickson, an
environmental engineer for the city. "We didn’t have any of the nightmares
we were concerned would happen."

More and more cities faced with deer problems are discovering the best way
to help manage herds is through enlisting the ranks of local bowhunters, with
Wausau becoming the latest municipality to utilize archers successfully.

Quote Of The Week
"Every day our dogs show us another reason why we give them our hearts.
And all these reasons spring from the same source. We love them because they
embody the triumph of spirit over mortality. And being spirits, they never die.
It is through the window of their brief lives that we glimpse eternity."
-Alston Chase
“We Give Our Hearts to Dogs to Tear (Intimations of their Immortality),” 2008

J.R. Absher is a freelance outdoor writer whose articles and columns appear in
numerous national publications. He offers his unique perspective of the
outdoors weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You may contact him at

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