By Larry Keller
A thick autumn snowfall still carpeted the ground when Colorado district wildlife manager Tom Knowles got the tip that put him on the trail of the "Missouri boys." The informant, a hunter named Michael Xavier, said that three men who had licenses only for cow elk had killed at least one bull elk in Rio Blanco County, in the north-central part of the state.
Knowles visited the hunting camp where Xavier saw the men. There, a camper named Doug Harlow told Knowles that he also saw the trio -- whom he called the "Missouri boys" -- bringing meat back from the woods two days earlier. They told him they'd shot a cow, but Harlow wondered; they "were covered in blood from head to toe and seemed to have a lot of meat for just one cow," he said.
Knowles followed the men's tracks for perhaps two miles to an elk carcass. The meat had been taken and the skull plate sliced off, suggesting that it was a bull whose antlers were removed. Knowles' job requires him to be part outdoorsman, part detective and part coroner. He took photos and used a metal detector near a bullet wound in the animal's neck. Cutting into the elk, he followed the bullet's path and extracted two metal fragments. He also sliced out a DNA sample. The animal, he suspected, had been poached.
Poaching involves everything from killing or possessing endangered wildlife and fish to killing more than the legal limit of a species, hunting out of season, and killing without the correct license. It's a serious problem for Western states. Ironically, the fact that poachers seldom bother to buy hunting licenses means that states are also deprived of the revenue they rely on to protect wildlife. More....