By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A southern Colorado outfitter is accused of running an illegal big-game hunting operation by luring deer and elk to a ranch he leased and threatening clients who complained about his service, authorities said on Friday.
James Hirschboeck, 53, is charged with operating an unlicensed outfitting business for profit, menacing with a deadly weapon, illegally possessing a bull elk and hunting on private property without permission, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in a statement.
The investigation began last year after 15 hunters, most of them from out of state, complained to Colorado wildlife officials that they were "deceived and defrauded" by the defendant, the statement said.
Hirschboeck ran Colorado Elk Adventures without a license and charged up to $3,000 for each illegal hunt, said Bob Holder, parks and wildlife lead investigator on the case.
"The vast majority of hunters and legal outfitters are excellent stewards of our state's natural resources," Holder said. "Cases like this rob everyone of those resources and we will not tolerate anyone who takes advantage of our hunters ... or disrespect our wildlife."
Following the complaints, undercover agents posing as clients infiltrated the operation and saw the ranch Hirschboeck leased "was strewn with alfalfa hay," an illegal baiting tactic used to lure deer and elk, authorities said.
"The investigators also received first-hand accounts of how a bull elk was killed by one of the hunters on private property, then dragged to the area Hirschboeck had leased," the statement said.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, the agents saw Hirschboeck threaten another hunter after he complained that the hunts were illegal and demanded a refund. Hirschboeck allegedly pulled a claw hammer from a tool box and struck a wall with it, screaming at the client.
The affidavit said Hirschboeck then brandished a mace, a medieval weapon with a spiked ball and chain, and asked the man, "What do you think of this?"
Hirschboeck was arrested at his home in Trinidad, Colorado, 200 miles (320 km) south of Denver, on Oct. 30, authorities said.
According to the affidavit, he had previously been charged in Wisconsin with illegally luring wildlife.
He was arraigned in Las Animas County District Court on Friday and is due back in court next month, Parks and Wildlife spokesman Kyle Davidson said, adding that Hirschboeck could face jail time and fines.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis)