Hunting "Legend" gets $10,000 in Fines, 4500 Hours Community Service

Kirt Darner, a former outfitter and owner of a private northwestern New Mexico elk hunting park, was sentenced to $10,000 in fines and 4,500 hours of community service Monday for illegally transporting elk and receiving stolen bighorn sheep heads.

Cibola County District Judge Camille Martinez-Olguin also ordered Darner to pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and a taxidermy business in Montrose, Colo., where the sheep heads were stolen. Olguin ordered Darner to serve 25 weeks of community service a year for4 ½ years — 4,500 hours — in Colorado and New Mexico.

“Mr. Darner has learned that we will not tolerate people trying to profit by stealing wildlife that belongs to the citizens of New Mexico,” Cibola County District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute these types of crimes.”

Darner, 69, pleaded guilty to the charges in June 2008. He faced a maximum penalty of 4 ½ years in jail and a minimum of $10,000 in fines and restitution. In a plea agreement accepted by Judge Martinez-Olguin, Darner also agreed never to hunt, fish or possess a firearm in his lifetime.
The investigation involved close cooperation among the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Kirt Darner, a nationally known big-game hunter and guide, and his wife, Paula Darner, were co-owners of a 40-acre game park on the Lobo Canyon Ranch north of Grants. They were indicted on multiple charges related to the possession of two trophy bighorn sheep heads and the illegal transport of stolen live elk. The Darners were accused of illegally moving three state-owned elk from the Lobo Canyon Ranch to the Pancho Peaks ranch and game park in southeastern New Mexico in 2005. Kirt Darner was paid $5,000 for each elk.

Department of Game and Fish officers who executed a search warrant at the Darner property in 2005 discovered a desert bighorn sheep head and a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep head inside a vehicle. Further examination of the heads determined that they were stolen from a Montrose, Colo., taxidermy shop in 2000. The Colorado Division of Wildlife had offered a $5,500 reward for information about the sheep-head thefts. At the time they were stolen, the sheep heads were estimated to be worth more than $20,000 each. At Monday’s sentencing hearing, a Colorado Division of Wildlife investigator testified that a former employee of Darner’s admitted to being paid to steal the sheep heads.

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. 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. In 2008, Darner pleaded guilty to making a false statement in order to purchase a license. He had applied for landowner vouchers with the Department of Wildlife, but did not own enough property to be eligible for the program.

The Darners currently live in Crawford, Colo.

Wildlife Pawns in Global Warming Manipulation

A leading anti-hunting organization is pushing a new grassroots effort to “Fight Global Warming and Save Wildlife. In the process, it is showcasing a new weapon in the movement’s assault on sportsmen’s rights: the manipulation of public concerns over global warming into a way to go after the wholly unrelated issue of hunting.

In an online solicitation, Defenders of Wildlife (DoW) is urging its supporters to, “urge President-Elect Obama and the Congress to pass legislation to address global warming and help polar bears, wolverines, bighorn sheep and other animals survive and thrive in a changing climate.”

As followers of the USSA know, global warming is rapidly becoming a weapon in the anti’s arsenal of attacks on hunting, fishing, and trapping. This is especially pronounced given the decision in 2008 to list polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to the loss of arctic sea ice.

The decision was made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) after a lawsuit was filed by a coalition of environmental groups that wanted to use the ESA as a way to force action on global warming. That decision, which was opposed by the USSA, did nothing to protect against the loss of the sea ice but has resulted in a loss of millions in conservation dollars due to the prohibition placed on hunting as a result of the designation.

Additionally, as the USSA argued at the time, the enormous costs of overhauling and fundamentally changing the FWS mission will leave little if any money for actual endangered species or other traditional fish and wildlife programs.

Given the rhetoric coming from groups like DoW, it would not be surprising to see similar tactics employed in the future. The USSA continues to remain vigilant on this issue.

DNR, Pheasants Forever Acquire Land

Gratiot County, Mich. – January 13, 2009

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will partner with Pheasants Forever (PF) to acquire 140 acres of land in Gratiot County that is adjacent to the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area. DNR Director Rebecca Humphries authorized the transaction at a recent Natural Resources Commission meeting in Lansing.

The land, which is split in two parcels, a 120-acre parcel and a 20-acre one, is located in Hamilton Township in Gratiot County. Humphries authorized the transaction up to $370,000, with the purchase being paid for by the Turkey Habitat Acquisition Fund, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and a $10,000 gift from Pheasants Forever.

“This acquisition is significant because of the upland bird habitat on the property,” said Humphries. “This will help us consolidate ownership, prevent land fractionalization, increase public recreational opportunities and secure additional wildlife habitat. This is an important wildlife corridor connecting existing state ownership at the Gratiot-Saginaw State Game Area.”

“The DNR especially wishes to recognize the contribution of $10,000 from our conservation partner, Pheasants Forever,” said DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason. “A significant portion of the land being acquired contains the habitat necessary for this special game bird, and by its actions, Pheasants Forever has helped to create more hunting opportunities for Michigan citizens.”

The Gratiot-Saginaw State Game area is 15,892 acres in both Saginaw and Gratiot counties. For more information online, go to the

The DNR is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural resources for current and future generations.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are non-profit conservation organizations dedicated to the protection and enhancement of pheasant, quail, and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness, and education. PF/QF has more than 129,000 members in 700 local chapters across the continent.

When Guns Were Not Evil

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Member Professional Outdoor Media Association

According to the Brady Campaign, nationwide over 3500 students were expelled in 1998-99 for bringing guns to school. The Brady bunch adds that in the U.S., young children die or are badly injured because their parents or other gun owners don’t store their firearms properly, and children find loaded guns and use them unintentionally on themselves or other children. Older children are more at risk from horseplay with available guns, while teenagers use guns for crime.

This information was obtained directly from the Brady Campaign’s website, and for the sake of argument, let’s buy it, lock, stock, and barrel.

A simple person might conclude that grown ups ought to do a better job of keeping their guns – especially loaded ones – away from youngsters, unless there’s a clear and established understanding of the dangers and consequences of misuse. Just as important might be the parents’ role in providing lessons in gun safety, life’s issues, and criminal career paths. Ah, but who’s going to do all that. I mean, we are all so busy these days. We have our lives to lead, after all.

Ms. Brady and her center have taken everything into account for everyone and have concluded that it’s best not to keep a gun in the house. But, the no-gun policy is of little use, if the armed criminal shows up at your door. If the Bradys don’t want to keep guns in their residence, that’s fine with me; however, finger crossing doesn’t give me the edge I want now that my bodyguard, Otis, has passed on.

Consider this horrific scene. Thirteen-year old Johnny strides boldly into town – right down Main Street in Perry. He’s on a mission. Rifle conspicuously slung over his diminutive frame, he purposely marches through town yet manages to wave to a neighbor. There must be something in the water, because nobody is stopping little John Plowman on his date with destiny, even though he plainly has a gun.

At the same time in the halls of Perry High School, one Derwood Cole, long-time school board president, must have had a good dose of that same water before inviting a throng of youngsters to meet in the gymnasium and convincing them to bring their guns.

Even the principal became involved, as he unabashedly stashed guns in his office for select kids to use later.

Believe it or not, the scenario above was played out in real life over and over. It wasn’t the prelude in some shoot-‘em-up action movie. It didn’t even make the news!

It was just another day for lifelong Perry resident, John Plowman, as he toted his trusty auto-loading .22 caliber rifle through town to kill a few dirty rats. Real rats! And, Mr. Cole routinely held Hunters’ Safety Training Class at the high school for many years without incident. And, the obliging principal would always accommodate any kid who wanted to go pheasant or rabbit hunting after school by hanging onto his shotgun until class was dismissed.

Kids, guns, school. It was just as normal to mix them several decades ago as it is today. However, now the same recipe produces different results.

I don’t mind bursting a Brady bubble, so here goes. Guns are essentially the same today as they were some 40 years ago. One pull of the trigger, bang, and a bullet flies out the muzzle. Gun grabbers can demonize them and prescribe more laws restricting them, but they miss the target. Guns are one element in the equation of kids, guns, and school from yesteryear to today, which hasn’t changed, and therefore, maybe we should focus on other aspects of today’s ills.

So, where did we go wrong? Here’s a reality check: Go to a current movie. Any movie. Or, simply tune into any top-rated, primetime sitcom. Then, for comparison, watch any episode of Leave it to Beaver.
Any more questions?

Gun Sales Continue to Increase


Despite a weak economy, gun sales are continuing to increase amid concerns that incoming lawmakers will institute a new gun ban on law-abiding Americans. Data derived from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) show a 24 percent increase in firearm purchaser background checks for the month of December 2008 (1,523,426 checks) over December 2007 (1,230,525 checks). This increase follows a 42 percent rise in NICS checks for the preceding month, the highest number of checks in NICS history. FBI background checks are required under federal law for all individuals purchasing firearms from federally licensed retailers. These checks serve as a strong indicator of actual sales.

A recent poll of hunters and target shooters by Southwick Associates Inc., in which 80 percent of respondents said they expect it will become more difficult to purchase firearms under the incoming administration and congress, explains the increase in sales.

“Sales of firearms, in particular handguns and semi-automatic hunting and target rifles, are fast outpacing inventory,” said NSSF President and CEO Stephen L. Sanetti. “It’s clear that many people are concerned about possible gun bans under the incoming Congress and are reacting accordingly.”

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the large increase in demand for firearms has led to a shortage of Form 4473s — the Firearms Transaction Record which must be filled out any time a person buys a firearm from a licensed retailer. As a temporary measure, ATF is allowing FFLs to photocopy the form 4473 in its entirety until they receive their orders from the ATF Distribution Center. NSSF has reminded retailers of the newly launched Electronic Form 4473 which is free and downloadable from the ATF Web site.

Final year-end NICS data reveals a total of 12,709,023 background checks reported in 2008, up 14 percent from 2007.

For more information on gun sale statistics, legislative issues and general firearm related questions, please visit the NSSF Web site at — the media’s resource for all things about the firearms and ammunition industry.

Comment by Glen Wunderlich: At least the gun manufacturers do not appear to be in need of any bailout money.

Hot Cocoa

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Member Professional Outdoor Media Association

New Year’s Eve is celebrated by many and, while amateur-night revelers made plans to toot their annoying plastic toy horns, we made plans to bolster the freezer stock with nature’s finest organic fare: venison.

My friend, Joe Reynolds, is a country boy ensnared within Lansing’s city limits. But, during this final 2008 deer hunting session in the frigid December elements, he would be far-removed from his invisible urban tether in nearby Shiawassee County. The late antlerless season, his trusty muzzleloader, and his determination were all the elements necessary to give it one last try.

Behind him was the blown opportunity only a week prior, when he hastily snapped his safety back and forth after pulling the trigger on a mature doe. But, as Joe quickly learned, it’s much better to slide the safety to the fire position, before engaging the trigger – kind of like engaging the brain before the lips. Oh, the infallibility of hindsight.

Our half-mile march to the seductiveness of the heated shack across the pristine snow would place us in familiar territory. My role in this hunt would be that of spotter – an extra set of eyes, if you will – to avoid taking a buck that had already shed his antlers. We wanted to harvest a mature doe and nothing else. It was to be Quality Deer Management in action one more time.

My Knight Revolution muzzleloader was not along for this mission; instead, I opted to tote my tripod and Alpen spotting scope with its huge 80mm lens and 20×60 variable power. Target definition? We had it!

Confidence? We had that, too. But, it was justly borne of much hard work afield and at the shooting bench, where we had aptly prepared. The brassica food plot had already paid huge dividends this season and we had reason to believe good fortune would continue.

Only 100 yards away, fresh, nourishing greens and veggies sown in August could still be seen protruding above the unspoiled snow-covered setup. Yet, the clock struck five and nothing. But, I remained vigilant and trained the clear glass on the primary travel route, never doubting for a minute.

The chilling west wind quieted with less than one half hour left in our holiday hunt, when the unmistakable movement of deer materialized. I hadn’t yet identified a target, but Joe readied his Ruger muzzleloader. With its #11 percussion caps and 90-grain load of Triple Seven powder, it had not the horsepower of today’s more modern smokepoles. But, with the Powerbelt Aerotip projectiles, it was as accurate as any.

We concurred on the absolute appearance of a matriarch amid the small whitetail clan but a button buck blocked Joe’s sight line to the vitals at 120 yards. We watched and waited. The youngster then cleared and Joe muttered that he was holding dead on the adult. In the brief instant beginning with the trigger squeeze and subsequent rousing report of the Ruger, my powerful optics allowed me to confirm a direct hit to the right front shoulder, as the entire group of deer scampered away.

Joe instantly began jamming a patch down the bore before reloading and managed to get it stuck on top of the breech plug. Consequently, he was out of business, and since my firearm had been substituted for an optical advantage, we were collectively out of back-up shots, if any were needed. But, since I was sure of the hit, we went to the scene in search of clues. A short while later, we temporarily suspended the tracking effort, after following spotty blood and tracks that had gone beyond typical distance for the seemingly fatal shot.

Back at the ranch, we had a secret weapon that was ready, willing, and more than able, as we were about to learn: Joe’s dog, Cocoa. Although the chocolate Lab mix had been untested in tracking, my experience had shown that domestic dogs – any of them – were suitable, if given a chance to help.

Oh, how she was ready! The leashed canine was put on the trail and forcefully yanked Joe through some wild rose, thus creating a secondary blood trail, which had emanated from Joe’s own protruding snout. It was impossible to keep up with Joe and Cocoa, as she guided him along the difficult path chosen by the desperate deer. And, then Joe barked, “It’s right here!”

Cocoa was totally nuts by now, doing her best to chew the expired doe to bits before we had a chance to enjoy the moment. And, as we dragged the deer away, I had to fend off Cocoa over and over, as her usefulness evolved into a struggle between her direction and ours.

As we toasted the tenderloins in the cast-iron skillet over the wood stove that New Year’s Eve, Cocoa joined the organic protein party that was uniquely different from any Times-Square, ball-dropping, horn-tooting shenanigans. We had worked our plan to perfection and it was time to celebrate in our own rural ritual, which no king would ever be able to top.

It Snow Cause for Concern

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Member Professional Outdoor Media Association

My earliest recollection of a deer hunting trip to northern Michigan began in the vehicle taking us there. My brother in-law noticed the season’s first snow beginning to fall, as it reflected from our headlights. He became excited at the notion; I thought only that it would mean it was going to be cold. It’s all in we interpret the white stuff and how we react to it.

No doubt, when snowflakes accumulate enough to cover the ground, good hunters are able to use the white backdrop to their advantage. Deer’s natural camouflage is compromised by the stark contrast against the snow, which has the effect of opening up the woods. On the other hand, the same phenomenon can work against a city slicker who moves too quickly. While hunters can see better with snow cover, so can deer.

Still hunting – the art of sneaking about in the woods – has never been my specialty. It seems as though the deer I have seen are typically running full blast away from me after spotting me first. For those that have the self-control to actually move at a snail’s pace, the technique can work well – especially in the middle of the day, when deer tend to move less.

Snow also aids in tracking both before and after any shot attempts. The most magnificent whitetail I ever harvested fell at 130 paces to my original deer gun, a Winchester 30-30 in Michigan’s Iron County. It was the third day of the season and deer were scarce. With about six inches of snow on the ground and light snow falling, I decided to follow some fresh tracks in hope that they’d lead to a buck. Looking ahead beyond the tracks with my binoculars, I located the trophy of a lifetime following a doe.

After the single shot, I arrived at the scene where the two deer were together. I followed a set of tracks that were 10 yards between leaps, and with no sign of blood, I returned to the double set of tracks. The other set of tracks took me to my trophy.

Some snow can help a hunter move quietly; other snow varieties are problematic in that they may cause crunching noise under heavy boots. Matching an appropriate hunting style to the conditions is imperative. If it’s too noisy, it’s probably best to hunt from a stand.

In severe snowstorms and extremely cold temperatures deer will lie low in thick cover and will wait for the storm to pass. A wise hunter will take advantage of the deer’s pent up appetite and will be afield soon after the weather clears, if he’s not crazy enough to be out there already.

As I listened to the reports of traffic crashes this past week during our first dusting of snow, I had to take exception to the reporter, as he blamed the myriad collisions on the snowy conditions. You see, it wasn’t the snow that caused all the trouble; it was how drivers reacted to their circumstances.

Brady Campaign Sues to Stop National Parks Gun Rule

By Bill Schneider, 12-30-08

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, America’s largest anti-gun organization, sued the Department of the Interior today to prevent the implementation of the controversial administrative rule allowing loaded and concealed firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges.

“The Bush Administration’s last-minute gift to the gun lobby, allowing concealed semiautomatic weapons in national parks, jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in violation of federal law,” said Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke, in a press release. “We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry concealed firearms in our parks.”

In a phone interview with NewWest.Net, Daniel Vice, Senior Attorney for the Brady’s Legal Action Project, said his group “is looking at all options,” but thought it was vital to file the lawsuit as soon as possible instead of waiting to let the rule go into effect and work through the long political process of trying to get the Obama administration to overturn it.

Many other groups also oppose the rule, he noted, but at this point the Brady Campaign is going it alone with this lawsuit with no co-plaintiffs.

“The rule would allow concealed guns on the National Mall,” Vice pointed out,” and it takes effect only 11 days before the inauguration.”

The Washington Post had estimated that as many as five million people will be in Washington D.C. to celebrate the Obama inauguration, predicting that the celebration might be “the single biggest gathering of people America has ever seen.”

“This rule affects both rural and urban parks like the Liberty Bell,” Vice said. “Some of our members are now afraid to take their kids to Ellis Island.”

This is why the lawsuit asks for a temporary injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect on January 9, he added. “But we’re concerned about all the parks, not just the urban parks.”
The fundamental legal issue, Vice explained, is that the rule violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

“They (Interior Department) did no environmental analysis or review at all,” he explained. “When you have so many people with strong opinions on both sides of an issue, it’s important to follow the law and do a review process.”

Asked if defendants might consider this rule “non-environmental” and not covered by NEPA, Vice answered, “Even Reagan did this.”

He refers to the NEPA analysis and review President Ronald Reagan’s administration conducted when the current rule, which requires guns to be unloaded and inaccessible when taken into national parks, was implemented in early 1980s. “This rule should at least require the same review,” Vice insisted.

According to the Brady Campaign press release, the new rule also violates the National Park Service Organic Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, which created the parks and wildlife refuges as protected lands for safe enjoyment of all visitors.

You can read the entire legal complaint here.

Commentary by Glen Wunderlich: It seems that the Brady bunch never concerns itself with one’s right to defend oneself. While not all National Parks harbor inherent dangers, some do. And, it’s quite unsettling to be defenseless.

Recycle Those Squirrel Tails

Mepps, manufacturer of the World’s #1 Lure, the Mepps spinner, is asking squirrel hunters to save their squirrel tails. The tails are used to dress the hooks of Mepps, the original French spinner.

Mepps has been buying fox, black, and grey squirrel tails for more than three decades, and will pay up to 26 cents each for tails, depending on quality and quantity. The cash value is doubled if the tails are traded for Mepps lures. “Hundreds of other materials, both natural and synthetic, have been tested,” says Jim Martinsen, Mepps spokesman, “but few materials work as well. Mepps is only interested in recycling tails taken from squirrels that have been harvested for the table,” Martinsen stresses. “We do not advocate taking squirrels strictly for their tails.”

Details on the Mepps squirrel tail recycling program can be found at: Interested hunters can also call: 800-713-3474. Mepps, 626 Center St., Antigo, WI 54409-2496. – 30 – Please note: It is illegal to sell squirrel tails in CA, ID, OR, & TX

SCI Commends Choice of Salazar for Interior Secretary

Washington, D.C.

Safari Club International (SCI) today expressed its support for President-Elect Barack Obama’s choice of Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as his Administration’s next Interior Secretary.

Senator Salazar is currently a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and has been a consistent pro-sportsman vote since he came to Washington, D.C. in 2004. With this appointment, President-Elect Obama has made the logical choice of an Interior Secretary who understands the sportsmen’s legacy of hunting and conservation on America’s public lands.

“We are pleased that President-Elect Obama has resisted the pressure from anti-hunting groups to name an anti-hunting extremist to this important post,” said SCI President Merle Shepard. “Senator Salazar’s pro-hunting votes over the past four years in Washington, and his support for access to federal lands for hunting throughout his entire career in Colorado will prove to be invaluable for sportsmen and women during this Administration.”

Shepard continued, “SCI looks forward to working with Senator Salazar in the Obama Administration to make sure the hunter’s voice is heard on every issue that affects hunting, hunters or science-based wildlife management.”

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