June 25, 2008
A Colorado man who once held numerous Boone & Crockett records and for decades
considered a legend in the hunting world with a history of wildlife violations
pleaded guilty to numerous wildlife related-crimes in a New Mexico district
court on June 23.
Darner, 69, of Crawford, has been convicted of wildlife violations in Colorado
dating back to 1994. In 2000, Colorado Division of Wildlife officers started
investigating Darner as a suspect in the theft of two bighorn sheep heads from a
Montrose taxidermist. In Cibola County, New Mexico, on Monday, Darner pleaded
guilty to transporting wild elk and receiving stolen property - specifically,
the two Colorado sheep heads. At the time they were stolen, the sheep heads,
which belonged to the DOW, were estimated to be worth between $20,000 and
"We've worked on this case for more than eight years and
cooperatively with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for the past
three. I can’t give them or the Cibola County District Attorney’s office enough
credit for their hard work and diligence." said Eric Schaller, an investigator
for the Colorado DOW. "This case also shows that the Colorado Division of
Wildlife will continue to pursue these tough cases for as long as necessary."
Darner could serve four years in jail and pay a minimum of
$10,000 in fines and restitution for the New Mexico charges. A sentencing
hearing has not been set. As part of the plea agreement, Darner agreed never to
hunt, fish or possess a firearm again. He also is prohibited from working as a
guide or outfitter in Colorado and New Mexico.
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. DOW officers observed Darner's client shoot at an elk
decoy from a truck in a game management unit for which the client didn't have a
license. Darner then sped away trying to elude game wardens. In 2008 Darner
pleaded guilty to making a false statement in order to purchase a license. He
had applied for land owner vouchers with the DOW but did not own enough property
to be eligible for the program.
While executing a search warrant at the Darner property in 2005,
New Mexico wildlife officers discovered a desert bighorn sheep head and a Rocky
Mountain bighorn sheep head inside Darner’s vehicle. Further examination of the
heads indicated they were the same sheep heads that were stolen from a Montrose
taxidermy shop in 2000. The DOW had offered a $5,500 reward for information
about the sheep-head thefts.
Darner, a nationally known big-game hunter and guide, and Paula
Darner his wife were co-owners of the 40-acre Lobo Canyon Ranch north of Grants
when they were indicted in New Mexico in 2006 on 41 felony and misdemeanor
charges. Among the charges, the Darners were accused of receiving stolen
property and 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. Charges against Paula Darner are still pending.