From the Colorado Division of Wildlife
MONTROSE, Colo. - A Texas man has paid nearly $12,000 for illegally
killing a bull elk in the wrong game management unit and then lying
about the location to officers from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Mitchell Phelps, 46, of Athens, Tex., shot a six-point bull elk while
archery hunting on Sept. 16, in game management unit 61, a prized
limited-license area on the west side of the Uncompahgre Plateau near
Montrose. Phelps license, however, allowed him to hunt only in game
management unit 62 located just to the northeast of where he was
"A unit 61 elk license is highly prized, it's a big deal when a
hunter draws one, people wait years to draw those licenses," said Renzo
Delpiccolo, area wildlife manager for the DOW in Montrose. "So when
someone sneaks into the wrong unit and kills a trophy animal, that's a
Ryan Swygman, district wildlife manager in the area, was on routine
hunting patrol on Sept. 16 when he saw an elk rack in the back of a
Swygman stopped to inspect the elk and became suspicious when he saw
that the carcass tag had not been attached to the animal properly and
had not been voided. A youngster got out of the truck and explained that
his father had killed the animal and that he was on his way out with the
Swygman decided to wait for the man.
When Phelps arrived he told Swygman that he had shot the elk in unit
62 but that the animal had run more than a mile into unit 61 where it
died. Swygman asked the man to take him to the site and he inspected the
Swygman examined the animal and saw that the man had made an
excellent shot, piercing the lungs and the heart with an arrow.
"When an animal gets shot in the heart and lungs, it usually can't
run very far," Swygman explained.
When Swygman explained that to Phelps, the man continued to insist
that the animal ran a long distance. During the interview wildlife
officers Mark Caddy and Tony Bonacquista arrived to assist with the
Phelps agreed to meet the officers the morning of Sept.18 at the
sheriff's office in Delta where the questioning would continue.
The officers also talked to another man in Phelps' hunting party who
had become lost in the area the night before while packing out a portion
of the elk his friend had shot. The officers had assisted the local
sheriff's office in a search for the man and helped to locate him.
The man, who was familiar with the area, told the officers that he
had explained the location of the game management unit boundaries to
When the officers talked to Phelps in Delta they told him that with
the evidence they had that he could be charged with several violations.
They explained that he would have to come back to Colorado for a trial,
and if he was found guilty could face jail time and fines of more than
When confronted with the evidence, the man finally decided to
cooperate and admitted that he had shot the animal illegally. He pleaded
guilty to illegal possession of wildlife and for failing to tag the
animal properly. He was not allowed to keep the antlers or the meat. He
was also assessed with an automatic surcharge of $10,000 for killing a
trophy-class animal under Colorado's Samson law.
Phelps paid $11,702 in fines and was assessed 35 penalty points
against his hunting privileges which could prohibit him from hunting for
up to five years. In Colorado, accumulation of 20 penalty points leads
to a license-suspension hearing and the possibility of losing hunting
and fishing privileges for up to five years.
Colorado also participates with other states in a wildlife compact
agreement; so Phelps could also lose his hunting and fishing privileges
in 24 other states. Texas does not participate in the compact agreement.
The length of his suspension will be determined at a hearing with the
DOW this winter.
Anyone who knows of poaching activity should contact a Colorado
Division of Wildlife office or call Operation Game Thief at
1-877-265-6648. Tips can be given anonymously and rewards are possible.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife is the state agency responsible for
managing wildlife and its habitat, as well as providing wildlife related
recreation. The Division is funded through hunting and fishing license
fees, federal grants and Colorado Lottery proceeds through Great