A Denver man was charged with a Class Five felony for outfitting without a license in the Milk Creek Drainage west of Sleepy Cat Peak in Rio Blanco County. Michael Aragon was charged Nov. 20 with the felony for illegal sale of wildlife and with a misdemeanor for outfitting without a license. Both charges stemmed from a hunting trip the weekend of Oct. 13, the opening of the first rifle season.
The charges were filed in Rio Blanco District Court. Colorado Division of Wildlife officers discovered the activity while posing as hunters on horseback. If convicted, Aragon faces a minimum of a year in jail, fines and suspension of hunting privileges for a minimum of one year and up to life.
Aragon, who cooperated with law enforcement, was first approached Oct. 13 by district wildlife managers Scott Winkler and Bill deVergie. He said he was hunting with some hunters from West Virginia. Later in the day, two of the four men with him were contacted by deVergie and Winkler while they were cleaning a bull elk that had been shot that morning. The men told the officers that they had each paid a man, later identified as Aragon, $1,250 to outfit them on their hunt.
They also told the officers that Aragon had supplied the horses, tents and all of the equipment for the hunt. They said that they had learned of Aragon's outfitting business, M & M Outfitters, the previous year while hunting in a nearby area. Aragon had apparently given the men a business card.
About 5 a.m. on Oct. 15, several wildlife officers came back to the men's camp with a search warrant. Those were Winkler; deVergie; area wildlife manager Dan Prenzlow, John Bredehoft, chief of law enforcement for the Division; Gary Berlin, the Division's personnel program coordinator; a law enforcement official and an outfitting regulation officer, both from the U.S. Forest Service; and Chuck Reichert, the Division?s district wildlife manager.
A truck, horse trailer, three horses, two wall tents and several other pieces of hunting equipment were confiscated from Aragon by Division officials after the warrant was served.
During the investigation, it was discovered that Aragon was working with a man from New Mexico. U.S. Forest Service officials are investigating because the New Mexico man took money for packing out other hunters' elk (engaging in a commercial activity) on Forest Service land without a permit. Aragon also faces the same charges by the Forest Service.
Division officials said that the alleged clients from West Virginia had not signed any contracts and did not research Aragon's outfitting business before going on the hunt. No charges have been filed against the four men.
"The best thing that people can do is call the Colorado Outfitters Association before they pay someone to take them hunting," deVergie said. The association can be reached at (970) 876-0543.