Two Colorado Men Guilty of Poaching Bighorn Sheep

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Two Arvada men have been fined more than $35,000 after their conviction on multiple charges for the poaching of a trophy bighorn ram above Georgetown in 2008.

Henry Butler, Jr., age 57, and his son, Brandon Butler, age 30, were sentenced two weeks ago in the 5th Judicial District Court in Georgetown for illegally killing the ram on September 28, 2008.  In addition to their sentences, they face a lengthy suspension of their right to hunt and fish in most of the United States.

The case resulted from a tip called in by a hunter who was scouting the area for a later hunt.

"Bighorn sheep are Colorado's state animal and a cherished part of our wildlife heritage," said Area Wildlife Manager Reid DeWalt, who supervised the case. "We rely on the public to stand up for Colorado's wildlife when they see people abusing it." Bighorn sheep licenses are so highly prized that hunters can wait decades to successfully draw a tag. Ironically, Brandon Butler did have a valid sheep tag that would have allowed him to legally harvest the trophy ram.

After receiving the phone tip, DOW investigators responded quickly to an area north of Empire along the continental divide off Breckenridge Peak. There, they observed the Butlers walking away from the kill site above tree-line, one with a bighorn sheep head strapped to the top of a backpack, the other carrying a rifle. Later that night, officers encountered the two men on an ATV, but without the rifle or the ram's head in their possession. Investigators subsequently discovered that both items had been placed in a truck parked near the Empire dump.

Under questioning, the men admitted that Henry Butler, 57, had illegally shot the ram just below Breckenridge Peak after Brandon, having tired of a difficult and challenging hunt used a cell phone to illegally guide his father to a position where he could see the band of sheep. The elder Butler did not care to see the tag "wasted" by remaining unfilled.

"Poachers are criminals," said Steve Yamashita, DOW's Northeast Regional Manager. "They give true sportsmen and women a bad name."

Hunting licenses are not transferrable in Colorado; only the license holder may legally harvest an animal. In addition, meat from the animal must be cared for and brought out of the field for consumption. It is a felony in Colorado to kill an animal and only take the trophy parts from the carcass.

Henry Butler fought the charges, but in April was convicted at trial on a felony charge of willful destruction of wildlife. He was also convicted on misdemeanor charges of hunting without a license, illegal possession of wildlife, transfer of a license, waste of wildlife and the use of electronic equipment in the commission of a wildlife crime.

Butler was sentenced to a 90 days suspended jail sentence, fined more than $8,500 and assessed a $25,000 "Samson surcharge" for killing a trophy-class big game animal.

Brandon Butler accepted a plea bargain resulting in his conviction on illegal transfer of a license, illegal possession of wildlife and waste of wildlife. In addition to the fines, he agreed to make a $2,000 charitable contribution and to the forfeiture of a rifle and ATV.

Later this year, DOW will recommend that the Colorado Wildlife Commission impose lengthy suspensions of the Butlers' right to hunt and fish in Colorado and the 33 other states who participate in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.

For more information about wildlife crimes, visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife website at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/RulesRegs/LawEnforcement/OperationGameThief/OperationGameThief2.htm and learn how to protect our most precious natural resource, our Colorado wildlife.