Caribou Gear

Colorado Elk Highs and Lows

seeth07

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Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
1,547
Location
Markesan, WI
I wasn't entirely sure if and when I was going to tell this story. Many emotions have been experienced over the last six months with this particular hunt from the excitement of drawing the tag in the beginning to the anger of having to pay a fine for a big game "violation" at the end and all things between. I feel that a lot of us hunters would maybe omit the parts of this hunt that make themselves feel ashamed but I knew I couldn't do that and thankfully I know that the HT community (at least the dedicated ones) will appreciate that. I also know that I needed some time to let all of those strong emotions settle before I put the story into words. Doing so beforehand likely would have resulted in a story with lots of whining and complaining and probably too much focus on the individual that put a damper on our overall experience. Now that I am calm and at ease with the situation, I'm able to relive the good moments from the trip and focus on learning from my mistakes and to not put us in that type of situation again. So, with that preface complete, I take you all back to the beginning of October...

My wife and I had just finished up hunting Antelope (and some ducks!) in Wyoming. Our tentitive planned schedule for this entire western trip was to arrive in Wyoming Saturday afternoon and travel to Colorado on Wednesday giving us at least two days to scout before the 1st rifle elk season opened on Saturday. We did arrive late on Wednesday to the unit keeping us right on schedule.

This particular 1st rifle elk tag should not have been drawn by us this year. We had no where near the required points but rather than put in the PP code, we always put in for a unit just in case something weird happens. Something weird like drawing the unit with a whole 11 points less than what it took the previous year! It was quite unexpected and I actually didn't even check the draw results right away but rather learned from the email they sent out.

The unit is not an easy hunt and we knew that going into the application. It's managed for big bulls but during the early hunting seasons, very few of these big bulls, and elk in general, are on public land. There is a national park that holds a lot of the elk and also some large tracts of private land that hold a bunch of elk year round as well. During the hunt, we also had two other things that greatly complicated matters. There were two massive burns the previous year and both of these burns were extremely hot resulting is some extremely poor habitat during this past hunting season. A lot of roads were closed limiting access and I don't think it even mattered though as we did hike in the edge of those burns and it was a waste of time it was so charred yet. The other issue we discovered is that the private land owners in this area really do not like public land users. We were harassed twice and also encountered two roads where someone blocked the public forest road with a chain.

Back to the actual hunt. The first two days of scouting and first day of the hunting season there really isn't much to tell. My wife was hunting with my cousin who joined us to help and I was venturing out solo. For three days, we spotted zero elk and barely saw any sign let alone fresh sign. On opening day I cut a fresh large elk track in the day old snow and that was about it. What we did find was other public land users, lots of them. It was frustrating at times how many hikers and mountain bikers we crossed paths with. Even some illegal dirt bikers. It was some beautiful country though and we tried to not let it get us down and we continued to explore new areas.

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seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
1,547
Location
Markesan, WI
In the afternoon of that second hunt day, day 4 into the hunt, I did find a little bit of sign while hiking down this small drainage. It was nothing to get super excited about but it certainly was better than anywhere else we have looked so far. Then, just before I got back to the truck, I met this old guy walking his dog and he catches me off guard. "You aren't deer hunting are you? Thats not open."

To which I replied "Nope, I got an elk tag for 1st rifle season here".

He goes "Wow, so your the lucky guy who took my tag! I love hunting this unit. If I were you, I would head just one more ridge to the south of here. There is always local elk there, they love it for some reason".

That evening, we all hiked up that next ridge to glass. Shortly before dark, my wife spots a young bull elk back towards but above the drainage I had hiked earlier that day. He was 900 yards away with no logical way to approach him especially with only about 30 minutes of light left.

We hiked out and formulated a plan of attack for the next morning. I was going to head back into the drainage from the north and find a spot where I can glass into the area he was from about 500 yards away. My wife was going to setup on the south side also about 500 yards away. If that bull is there still, hopefully one of us catches his movement.

It gets light out and I see nothing. Not even a deer. A hour passes and I get a bit antsy from not being entirely happy with my chosen spot in the dark to glass from. I move about 100 yards a bit down and to the left to get a better view. At this time, the sun is up and just starting to hit the tops of the ridges. Holy crap, I see an elk! And I say holy crap because this elk is a long ways away but it's plain as day it's an elk with the sun shining on it. It's so far away I actually just go for the spotter over the binoculars. I get him in the scope and can tell it's a spiker. A minute later, I spot a nice big mature bull coming behind him. They are beyond the range of my rangefinder and per onx calculation now, they were almost 2000 yards from me. However, my wife was over there, about 800 yards from me putting her much closer.

At this point I start jumping and waving my arms. I can barely see them even with the orange on but I was hoping to hand signal to them what I saw. After what seemed like hours of jumping jacks, finally I catch them all with their binoculars on me. To the best of my ability, I signal "big bull, your ridge, go up".

They didn't move...

What to do? I decide I would get closer to the bulls and then maybe try signaling to them again. I hike like I've never hiked before just absolutely filled with adreline.

I stop at a spot where I can see one of the bulls with the naked eye and range him at 1100 yards. I watch him for a bit and then try signaling again. I go back to the bull, it's the spiker, and watch him lay down. Right in the sun, in the open. I look back to my wife and she is gone. The bull surely isn't going to stay bedded long in the sun so I rationalize that I just need to make a sprint for him and I'll either meet up with my wife along the way or I'll hopefully at least have a chance by myself.

I make it over there and due to the terrain, the approach was not good. I was below him with thermals running in my face but it wasn't until I got within about 60 yards that I finally got a glimpse of him standing up and by the time I got my scope on him, just never could get a good shot. I never did see the mature bull a second time.

I get to where he was feeding and laid down and it was like I hit the jackpot. It all came together on top of that ridge for us. SIGN EVERYWHERE. It looked like a herd of cattle had been living up there all summer. The reason why they were here is because in 2020, there was a tiny fire here, probably only like 500 acres. As a result, there was ample greens coming up from the ground. The area was surrounded on most sides with dense evergreens. It was obvious why elk were here and there was no reason for them to leave.

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That evening, as well as the morning and evening of the 4th hunt day, my wife and I hiked up to the top of that ridge which was on the eastern edge of that burn and spotted elk each time moving through the burn feeding and then disappearing into the dark timber. The window of time to capture them moving was roughly 15 mintues in grey light and each of those three times, we could never get within our comfortable rifle range of 300 yards (sorry no 1000 yard plus shots in this story). We spotted some really nice bulls and actually mostly everything we saw was a bull.

I head down back to the truck and met a very confused cousin and wife who had absolutely no clue what I was signaling. Apparently I told them to meet me at the truck 🤦‍♂️
 

seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
1,547
Location
Markesan, WI
We had just one morning left to hunt in the 5 day season and plans were to drive home sometime later that day. We didn't really have many options as we figured heading any place new would be a huge gamble and I don't remember where I first heard this saying but you don't leave elk to find elk right?

So we headed back in there but this time we decided to take a gamble on where the elk would be. From the top of the ridge, it was very easy to glass just about the entire burn so it wasn't difficult to spot them. The problem was each time they were anywhere from 600 to 1200 yards away and they never gave us enough time to close the distance. I timed the one sprint I did and I went from 1200 to 400 yards away in 16 minutes to never see those elk again. We ended up setting up where we could watch the two faces we had seen the elk. One was within shooting range, the other was about 600 yards away.

After getting in there super early, we sat for awhile in the dark. After it had got past that grey light, I knew something had to show up soon or it was going to be over for us. Literally just as I was thinking those dreaded thoughts, I spot an elk (spiker) on the far face.

"Time to run" I say.

We make a break down the ravine between us and the elk I spotted and work our way to within about 200 yards of where he should be. It didn't take long to spot him but in his current position, he was actually on private - one of three tiny 40 acre parcels nestled within the national forest. He is on it by about 50 yards.

Moments later, out from the dark timber emerges a nice bull, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and a calf, cow and than that spiker. 9 elk come storming towards us. Racing down this meadow and onto the public where we sit, not more than 75 yards away. They all get on public, between just being on the imaginary line I'm drawing in my head while looking at onX and about 75 yards onto public.

I look at onX and make a quick poor decision. "Shoot" I whisper to my wife. Bang...no elk move, they are confused. Bang...her elk runs up hill, back onto private by himself and falls over. I grab the gun and pick out a bull. Bang...the herd takes off, back onto private. They both die shortly after, 80 to 120 yards onto that 40 acre parcel. The excitement of just shooting two nice bull elk was the shortest lived adreline rush I have ever had while hunting. Regret immediately hit.

There was not much time to really think but at the time I said shoot I didnt really hesitate. These elk were headed down hill and wounded elk generally run down hill. To complicate the situation a little bit and something that played into my decision was there was this tiny private mining claim property that was only 50 yards wide just below us. 100 yards existed between the 40 acre private and this mining claim private. So it was a tight window where the elk were on public but in retrospect after all that happened, the correct decision would have been to let them pass us, walk quickly around the mining private and take the shot once the elk were through the mining claim and further down the burn and back on public. The rest of the story as you are all about to find out was not a very fun experience.

We do the right thing, walk out and start trying to figure out who the land owner is of this 40 acre parcel. We knock on many doors but it's 9:30am on a Wednesday and it's an area where I think most people that own and use this particular area just have cabins and getaways rather than year round homes. There is no cell service so all we have is the label from onX telling us who owns it and the hope that we finally find someone to talk to. We end up driving down a private road and finally find someone. He is older gentleman and he is very nice but it becomes very clear right away that he is mentally ill and can't help us. Knowing his condition, he realizes as quick as us that he can't help so he leaves us to go get his wife. This is where our poor decision turns into a horrible one. This lady absolutely flips out. I mean outright goes off on us. "You're trespassing on my land, didn't you read the sign" "You can't elk hunt behind my land, thats a wildlife sanctuary on that government land" "You have guns? Well this is just outrageous" "Wait until I tell all my neighbors, they aren't going to allow this and you to get away with killing something with a gun" "*huge gasp* There are children around here, what if you would have killed a child". She starts sobbing uncontrollably.

I apologize for intruding on her morning and ruining her day and we leave. We immediately go to a spot about 5 miles away where we noticed before we could get service. We had to get ahead of this. We find a bit of service, including data so we research like hell for 10 mintues to figure out a number we can for this land owner. We leave messages on a few voicemails but it wasn't very promising.

Ok, what do we do now? Think....think....call the sheriff? Think...think....ok, what if someone reports dead elk left to spoil since we can't legally go get them without permission and we have already did all we could do?....we ought to let a game warden know what's going on right? Ok let's do that.

After going through their dispatch, we get a phone call from an officer. He is extremely nice on the phone, I explain what we did and the situation we put ourselves in, he reminds us of what we can legally do and not do and I ask him many questions about legality of leaving the animals to waste in the event that we never get in touch with the landowner. We part ways on a good cooperate note and he claims he is going to try and contact the landowner for us as well.

Unfortunately, we had no choice but to leave that evening because I work on Friday and it's now Wednesday around noon. We decide to go get everything all packed up ready to go. I drive back to service and no returned calls. I do get a text from my cousin and his new GF is a headhunter and she got a list of numbers I should try of which 3 out of the 8 were ones I didn't try before and 2 of those had a voicemail I could leave. *Spoiler alert, I owe her big time* Back to camp, wrap up and we start to drive home. It's 4:30pm.

We get out of the mountains and onto the front range and I get a text:

"I am connected with some land near xxx, CO. What's your interest or concern?"

After a few exchanges, all was good. He was extremely happy that I reached out to inform him rather than just go get them. Turns out he lives in downtown Nashville and things went so well, I have an open invite to visit him down there anytime! Who would have thought a thank you gift of Wisconsin maple syrup and cheese curds could be so powerful?
 

seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
1,547
Location
Markesan, WI
We turned the truck around and back up the mountain we went. I called the Warden and left him a message explaining to him that we got permission and we were heading in to retrieve the bulls. It was 11 or so hours since we killed the bulls by the time we got back to them so spoilage was a real concern. The high that day was maybe 40 degrees or so but sunny. The bulls were bloated. We began to work fast starting with getting the hide off the one side on each bull as quick as possible and getting that first rear leg lifted up.

Almost exactly 12 hours later, and 6 packouts from my wife and 5 from me, both bulls were out to the road and in the back of our sxs. The wasted meat was only the tenderloins and about 5 pounds from one rear downward ham around the ball joint and around 10 pounds in the other bull, same deal with the ham. Thankfully it was only about a 1/2 mile pack out.

Before I can finish my story, I need to give a little bit of Wisconsin CWD background.

Wisconsin is the poster child of what exactly to not do when it comes to CWD. They didn't handle the situation very good at the start and now it has a huge impact on our deer herd in a certain area of the state. In order to lock this down and try to prevent hunters from being the ones that spread it, they now have strict rules on what parts of big game can be moved around from county to county in our state. Organs are not one of the items listed that can be legally transported. Seems silly but I know someone who got a violation for possessing a deer heart and liver.

So legally, in CO, we need to remove the testies naturally attached to a hind and then somewhere between the CO state line and the Wisconsin line, we need to ditch them. I actually don't know the rules in Nebraska and Iowa so maybe we are illegal traveling with them there, I actually don't know.

What we did was remove the testies and just brought them home, taking the chance in Wisconsin and either not getting caught or hoping we can win that argument with a Wisconsin game warden because its honestly a ridiculous situation.

Quick side note: I later found out that Arizona is also super strict in transport laws to prevent CWD from showing up in their state and their law does specifically state you can possess proof of sex, if required by the state you are coming from. Thanks for clearing that up AZ and hopefully Wisconsin follows suit.

We make it home late on Thursday and I receive a call from the Warden we talked to the day before. He asks me all kinds of questions and it soon becomes clear that I'm being interrogated. I honestly think he thought I lied in that voicemail about getting permission. The harassment of questions did not stop. I'm convinced that for some reason he was trying to find something I did wrong because I have talked with dozens of game wardens before and this conversation was completely different.

He however did have one question that I didn't know how to answer or what to do.

"Did you remove evidence of sex from both bulls?"

I answered honestly with a yes.

"Can you take a picture of them for me?"

"Ummm sure."

Afterwards, I was able to send him a screenshot of the text I received with permission so at least that was settled. I however had no intentions of sending him a picture of evidence of sex. Part of it was stubbornness, part of it was the fact that I didn't want to provide proof and then have him send it to a Wisconsin game warden resulting in a violation in my own state.

I did talk with someone that I trust about legal issues and he told me that I have no legal obligation to cooperate at this point and honestly, this warden has no legal right to charge me with anything at all unless he either caught me in the act or had hard physical proof since I was out of his state already.

Late the next week he calls me and said that if I can't send him a photo of evidence of sex, he has no choice but to write us a ticket. We choose to ignore his threat.

Fast forward to the early part of December and my wife and I both received a certified letter from CO P&W with a citation containing a fine of $140 each for failure to provide proper evidence of sex on an elk.

We had to pay the citation by early January or show up in person, in court to dispute the claim. For the $140 amount on the citation, the warden ended up getting what he wanted because there is no way I would travel back there to dispute $140.

This left me feeling extremely sour about the whole experience. I personally felt and still do that we didn't do anything wrong. Ethically, should we have passed on those bulls? Yes, I do believe we should have especially knowing that they very well could have laid there to waste as they almost did. Technically, we did do something illegal and should have received the citation in Wisconsin for illegally transporting big game parts. It's for this reason that I'm ok with and can move past the $280 bucks extra this hunt costed us. What's sour in me however is how I was treated by this game warden. We did everything correct and by the book. We knocked on over 20 doors, self reported that we filled our tags but have unrecoverable meat and horns left on private and I cooperated fully with the game warden during the whole process while we were there, way more than what was likely required of me (I didn't owe him coordinates, I didn't owe him my truck make and color, I didn't owe him my camp location, I didn't owe him the make and caliber of my gun, etc.). I stopped cooperating when I got home and his call started to make me feel like I was a criminal.

Thankfully, my experiences in the past with game wardens have been extremely positive and they have always been super helpful to me including telling me where I should check out to find x. Without those positive interactions, I would probably be viewing this experience in a whole different light and likely reluctant to ever self report anything again.
 

JLDemo

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 28, 2016
Messages
852
Location
Kansas
Well, after you strip it down, be thankful for a successful hunt.

I work for an enforcement agency that gets most of our calls from self- reporting. There's an obligation to do so but will always leave that resentful aftertaste especially if the end result is a citation from self reporting.

From the sounds of it the GW was just going over normal Q&A. Did you do this/that or this to be compliant with regs. If you weren't, can you provide x, y or z for proof. I don't think the line of questioning was out of place, just a normal sequence for the GW and happen to have a question that wasn't being answered. Tone would play a large part of cooperation too, I wasn't there to hear how the questions were delivered. So I'm just speaking from experience. Do you think you could have saved $280 by sending a photo? Possibly. Maybe the GW already knew it wasn't compliant and was just seeking knowledge of the violation. Maybe he would have wrote it off after proof was sent. I don't think it's something to stew over.

Anyway, lessons learned. Glad you were able to retrieve the elk and had a successful hunt. Thanks for sharing.
 

old roper 42

Active member
Joined
Apr 26, 2021
Messages
118
Location
Black Forest, Co
We turned the truck around and back up the mountain we went. I called the Warden and left him a message explaining to him that we got permission and we were heading in to retrieve the bulls. It was 11 or so hours since we killed the bulls by the time we got back to them so spoilage was a real concern. The high that day was maybe 40 degrees or so but sunny. The bulls were bloated. We began to work fast starting with getting the hide off the one side on each bull as quick as possible and getting that first rear leg lifted up.

Almost exactly 12 hours later, and 6 packouts from my wife and 5 from me, both bulls were out to the road and in the back of our sxs. The wasted meat was only the tenderloins and about 5 pounds from one rear downward ham around the ball joint and around 10 pounds in the other bull, same deal with the ham. Thankfully it was only about a 1/2 mile pack out.

Before I can finish my story, I need to give a little bit of Wisconsin CWD background.

Wisconsin is the poster child of what exactly to not do when it comes to CWD. They didn't handle the situation very good at the start and now it has a huge impact on our deer herd in a certain area of the state. In order to lock this down and try to prevent hunters from being the ones that spread it, they now have strict rules on what parts of big game can be moved around from county to county in our state. Organs are not one of the items listed that can be legally transported. Seems silly but I know someone who got a violation for possessing a deer heart and liver.

So legally, in CO, we need to remove the testies naturally attached to a hind and then somewhere between the CO state line and the Wisconsin line, we need to ditch them. I actually don't know the rules in Nebraska and Iowa so maybe we are illegal traveling with them there, I actually don't know.

What we did was remove the testies and just brought them home, taking the chance in Wisconsin and either not getting caught or hoping we can win that argument with a Wisconsin game warden because its honestly a ridiculous situation.

Quick side note: I later found out that Arizona is also super strict in transport laws to prevent CWD from showing up in their state and their law does specifically state you can possess proof of sex, if required by the state you are coming from. Thanks for clearing that up AZ and hopefully Wisconsin follows suit.

We make it home late on Thursday and I receive a call from the Warden we talked to the day before. He asks me all kinds of questions and it soon becomes clear that I'm being interrogated. I honestly think he thought I lied in that voicemail about getting permission. The harassment of questions did not stop. I'm convinced that for some reason he was trying to find something I did wrong because I have talked with dozens of game wardens before and this conversation was completely different.

He however did have one question that I didn't know how to answer or what to do.

"Did you remove evidence of sex from both bulls?"

I answered honestly with a yes.

"Can you take a picture of them for me?"

"Ummm sure."

Afterwards, I was able to send him a screenshot of the text I received with permission so at least that was settled. I however had no intentions of sending him a picture of evidence of sex. Part of it was stubbornness, part of it was the fact that I didn't want to provide proof and then have him send it to a Wisconsin game warden resulting in a violation in my own state.

I did talk with someone that I trust about legal issues and he told me that I have no legal obligation to cooperate at this point and honestly, this warden has no legal right to charge me with anything at all unless he either caught me in the act or had hard physical proof since I was out of his state already.

Late the next week he calls me and said that if I can't send him a photo of evidence of sex, he has no choice but to write us a ticket. We choose to ignore his threat.

Fast forward to the early part of December and my wife and I both received a certified letter from CO P&W with a citation containing a fine of $140 each for failure to provide proper evidence of sex on an elk.

We had to pay the citation by early January or show up in person, in court to dispute the claim. For the $140 amount on the citation, the warden ended up getting what he wanted because there is no way I would travel back there to dispute $140.

This left me feeling extremely sour about the whole experience. I personally felt and still do that we didn't do anything wrong. Ethically, should we have passed on those bulls? Yes, I do believe we should have especially knowing that they very well could have laid there to waste as they almost did. Technically, we did do something illegal and should have received the citation in Wisconsin for illegally transporting big game parts. It's for this reason that I'm ok with and can move past the $280 bucks extra this hunt costed us. What's sour in me however is how I was treated by this game warden. We did everything correct and by the book. We knocked on over 20 doors, self reported that we filled our tags but have unrecoverable meat and horns left on private and I cooperated fully with the game warden during the whole process while we were there, way more than what was likely required of me (I didn't owe him coordinates, I didn't owe him my truck make and color, I didn't owe him my camp location, I didn't owe him the make and caliber of my gun, etc.). I stopped cooperating when I got home and his call started to make me feel like I was a criminal.

Thankfully, my experiences in the past with game wardens have been extremely positive and they have always been super helpful to me including telling me where I should check out to find x. Without those positive interactions, I would probably be viewing this experience in a whole different light and likely reluctant to ever self report anything again.

I need to post something from Co hunting reg page 16

Evidence of Sex It is illegal to have or transport a big-game carcass without evidence of sex naturally attached. It is illegal to only detached evidence of sex accompany the carcass.

Your lucky.
 

Pagosa

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 13, 2011
Messages
1,290
Location
Montana
That region is not the most hunter friendly area in Colorado. I wouldn’t worry about the $140 fine, and just be thankful the landowner allowed access and you didn’t run into some Netherland nut job. I’ve considered hunting that area, but the public land access was a real concern. Congratulations on your elk
 

cedahm

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 22, 2015
Messages
1,135
Location
Colorado
It's not legal here. He's lucky didn't get fined or point access to both hunting lic.
He got both of those things

He quoted it was " legally, in CO, we need to remove the testies naturally attached to a hind"

@seeth07 - I think your italicized wording above was in error or at least hard to follow, but the way I understood it was: "We knew the testes had to remain naturally attached to the hindquarter in CO, and also that they had to be removed before entering WI - but we were unsure of CWD rules relating to transporting 'organs' in NE/IA and we decided to remove them before we left CO"
 

TexanSam

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 21, 2018
Messages
249
I would have told the game warden the Wisconsin laws and that "they were removed prior to arriving in wisconsin" and left it at that. They are really splitting hairs there.

Imagine if Nebraska made you keep them in transport but Iowa didn't allow you to bring them into the state. You'd have to toss them into the Missouri river to stay legal.
 

Slm864

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
658
Location
Pennsylvania
Good on you for making all attempts to do the correct things even after realizing the harsh reality of the recovery aspects.
That sucks that you got the 3rd degree treatment from the warden when it appears you did your best to follow CO and Wisconsin laws.
 

isu22andy

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 23, 2017
Messages
290
Location
Iowa
Strange situation. I think you did everything you could right after the fact. Seems like 99 percent of game violations your incriminating yourself. Was the shot questionable , well sure but all in all 280 bucks isnt the end of the world for killing 2 bulls .
 

seeth07

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 14, 2016
Messages
1,547
Location
Markesan, WI
He got both of those things



@seeth07 - I think your italicized wording above was in error or at least hard to follow, but the way I understood it was: "We knew the testes had to remain naturally attached to the hindquarter in CO, and also that they had to be removed before entering WI - but we were unsure of CWD rules relating to transporting 'organs' in NE/IA and we decided to remove them before we left CO"
I didn't think my wording was confusing as most have understood it but to make it clearer, we did have evidence of sex properly attached until we got home and put all meat in our walk in cooler.
 

kwyeewyk

Well-known member
Joined
Feb 22, 2019
Messages
1,026
Location
Washington
After all the honesty with the whole situation it seems like you should have just explained the situation with evidence of sex and told the warden you had to remove them before entering WI, probably ticked him off that you ignored him. Maybe wouldn't have mattered but he may have cut some slack.
 
Yeti

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