Briefly Noted: Two High-Profile Cases of Tag Draw Violations

Drawing a premium western hunting license can be difficult. With point creep and astronomical odds for nonresidents, some coveted western licenses are now beyond any realistic hope of drawing. That situation creates frustration, and two recent cases highlight what can happen—and the lengths to which some people will go—when attempting to draw a premium permit.

Well-known Arizona hunting guide Larry Altimus (owner of the HAS tag services), of Pearce, AZ, was convicted by a Utah jury of “wanton destruction of protected wildlife-trophy bighorn sheep,” a third-degree felony in Utah. According to a press release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (https://wildlife.utah.gov/wildlife-news/2159-guide-illegally-kills-bighorn-sheep-in-utah.html), Altimus illegally obtained a resident license and then used it to kill a desert bighorn in the Zion unit. In 2013, Altimus had accumulated 21 bonus points for desert sheep in Utah, but with so few desert sheep tags available to nonresidents, his chances of drawing a permit were poor. In Aug. 2013, Altimus rented a house in Kanab and in March 2014 used that address to apply for a permit as a resident. In May 2014, he drew the resident permit and in June 2014 he “moved back to Arizona.” Altimus returned to Utah and harvested a ram on that permit.

Utah law requires a person to have a “domicile” (fixed permanent home and principal establishment) in Utah for six consecutive months immediately preceding the purchase of a license or permit to qualify for resident license status. The person may not claim residency in another state or country for hunting or fishing purposes.

Altimus tells us he went to great lengths to comply with the law, putting his Arizona house for sale, obtaining a Utah driver’s license, registering his business in Utah and applying for Arizona tags as a nonresident. “I never had one iota of illegal or evil intent or deceit in moving to Utah. In my business I certainly know all the rules and regulations pertaining to game laws. Why in the world would I do something like this and then tell all my friends and clients about it, send pictures all over—the photo was on the cover of the Grand Slam magazine—if I knew I was doing something illegal? I’m not that stupid!”

According to Altimus, he was reported to Utah authorities by Utah sheep guide Adam Bronson after Bronson saw a photo of Altimus and his trophy on the cover of Grand Slam magazine. Under Utah Administrative Rule R657-5-22, anyone who turns in a poacher is eligible for a comparable tag as a reward.

Doug Messerly, who investigated the case for Utah DNR, told us that what tripped up Altimus with the Kane County jury was the fact that he moved to Utah precisely six months prior to applying for the tag and then moved back to Arizona one month after drawing the tag, which did not appear to demonstrate the required intent to make Utah a permanent home. “Because Altimus took his sheep across state lines, he could be charged for a violation of the Lacey Act, but Utah is not asking the USFWS to step in to this case.”

Altimus has been fined $750, plus ordered to pay the state of Utah $30,000 in restitution for the sheep he killed. He has also lost his hunting privileges for the next 10 years in Utah and 46 other states that are part of the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact (IWVC). He told us he feels it would be fruitless to appeal his conviction, but he is “considering forming a coalition to instigate legal proceedings to repeal the IWVC. We would need tremendous support from sportsmen and sportswomen throughout the country.

“In my case in Utah, they have not only taken away my hunting privileges in all states, but also fishing, trapping, taxidermy and all types of wildlife licenses. I also cannot apply for any bonus or preference points in any state.

“Can you explain to me how a violation in Utah that prevents me from going fishing with a friend in Louisiana is fair? This is not justice, it’s pure vengeance.”

Messerly also told us about another hunter who “moved” from Washington State to Utah a year after Altimus took his sheep. That hunter had his tag rescinded before the hunt took place but was ultimately not convicted of a crime.

In another case associated with the license drawing process, a Utah man has been charged in Laramie County (WY) district court for defrauding Wyoming Game and Fish (WGF) in order to obtain two nonresident moose licenses. The charges against Byron Oldham are intellectual property crimes of modifying data in a computer network. According to WGF, Oldham wrote a piece of code that tricked the software into leaving the application button open beyond the programmed 20-minute window. In doing so, Oldham applied for and received two moose tags. WGF also found that this wasn’t the first time Oldham had hacked into their system. On further investigation they discovered that Oldham attempted to apply online for a bighorn permit 99 times in a one-minute period on May 10, 2016.

Oldham owns GotMyTag.com, which promoted the Point Hunter app. Oldham has been in the hunting app business for several years, once developing a similar app for one of the state conservation groups (without their knowledge or consent—they eventually ordered him to cease and desist). The apps allow hunters to track their points, remind hunters of state deadlines and check drawing results. These apps do not apply for hunts.

Postscript: We often tell our readers that the potential penalties for breaking the law far outweigh the value of an illegally taken trophy. We stand by that statement and urge you to avoid even the appearance of misbehavior on your hunts. Someone is always watching.