Violations Costs Man Hunting & Fishing Priviliges


New member
Dec 20, 2000
Jackson, Wyoming


LANDER -- A Nov. 22, 2002 report of a moose taken illegally spiraled into a case involving two bull moose, two buck mule deer, one black bear and parts of several raptors taken or possessed illegally over a two-year period.

The eight Fremont County residents involved received 16 citations, 10 warnings, $6,410 in fines and restitution and loss of Wyoming hunting and fishing privileges, including a lifetime suspension for the main defendant, Denny D. Nickelson, of Riverton.

Nickelson, 54, was charged three counts of knowingly taking antlered or trophy game without a license, the illegal possession of a buck mule deer, waste of a buck mule deer, shooting from a vehicle, shooting from a road and the illegal possession of eagle and raptor parts.

In a plea agreement with the Fremont County Attorney’s Office, one count of knowingly taking antlered moose without a license was amended to a lesser charge of taking a moose without a license, Nickelson pleaded guilty to all charges. Ninth Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Nickelson recently.

In addition to the lifetime suspension of hunting and fishing privileges, Nickelson was fined $840, ordered to pay $3,500 in restitution to the state of Wyoming for one moose and one black bear. He was also sentenced to a 480-day suspended jail sentence and four years of supervised probation.

As a condition of his probation, Judge Denhardt ordered that Nickelson shall also not be in the field and in possession of any firearm during any hunting season while on probation and he shall not accompany anyone who is hunting, including family members. In addition, Nickelson was also sentenced for a separate charge of breech of the peace, was fined $130 and sentenced to 60 days in jail at the Fremont County Jail followed by an intensive alcohol rehabilitation program.

Five of the other seven defendants were charged with interference with a peace officer, one for taking an overlimit of deer, one for transferring a hunting license, one for failing to stop at a Game and Fish Department Check Station and all received warnings for being an accessory to the illegal take of one or both of the moose and black bear.

Kenneth L. Neeman, 59, of Riverton pleaded guilty to taking an overlimit of deer and Sylvia A. Knapp, 52, also of Riverton, pleaded guilty to transferring a license and both pleaded guilty to interference with a peace officer. They were fined $740 and $640 and each lost their hunting and fishing privileges for three years. The two also are ordered not to be in the field and in possession of any firearm during any hunting season while under suspension and both shall not accompany anyone who is hunting, not even a family member. Judge Denhardt reminded Knapp that she was prohibited from possessing a firearm due to a previous felony conviction.

John E. Allanis, 44, of Riverton, pleaded guilty to failing to stop at a Game and Fish Check Department station and was fined $230. Oliver L. Aragon, 67, of Fort Washakie, Larry R. Anders, 48, of Casper and Albert H. Cross, 61, of Dubois were each fined up to $230 for interference with a peace officer.

“The other defendants played relatively minor roles in assisting with and covering for the poached animals and most eventually helped to get to the truth,” Browning said.

The investigation began with an anonymous report of an illegal moose hanging at Nickelson’s residence to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Roy Brown of Lander.

Brown and Game and Fish Department Wildlife Investigator Scott Browning discovered a moose with no license or tags attached and no record of anyone at the residence with a moose license at Nickelson’s home 5 miles northwest of Morton. Along with G&F game wardens Brad Gibb and Adam Hymas a search warrant was served Nov. 25, 2003 and the moose was recovered along with some meat removed from the carcass. The officers also discovered another bull moose head, some eagle parts, bear claws and considerable deer hair.

Nickelson claimed a friend, Oliver Aragon, told him about a bull moose, freshly dead of no known cause, by the Wind River behind Nickelson’s house in November 2002. Nickelson said that he then recovered the animal so that it would not go to waste. Darcey K. Nickelson, Denny’s wife, assisted with the moose, and was later caught with moose blood on her clothes. Mrs. Nickelson denied that the moose was found by Aragon and provided a different account of events and of her own involvement.

Additional interviews revealed Nickelson had concocted this story for Aragon to tell to the officers. The head of this moose was located several months later at the house of a close friend of Nickelson’s on the Wind River Indian Reservation with a tribal search warrant and the assistance of the Wind River Tribal Fish and Game Department’s game warden John St. Clair.

The bull moose head that was discovered in the initial search warrant of Nickeslon’s house was later discovered to have been poached by Nickelson in Moccasin Basin, northwest of Dubois in October 2001. Nickelson, who purports to be an oilfield worker, initially said that a friend, name unknown, had given him only the moose head. Eventually the story came out from witnesses, and Nickelson himself, that he and his friends had been hunting elk and also drinking alcohol when they saw the bull moose. Nickelson shot the bull, without a license, out of the pickup and from the U.S. Forest Service Road. The meat was divided up between the participants. DNA analysis showed that meat located in Nickelson’s freezer matched the moose head located in the search warrant.

Tufts of bear hair found in a field near Nickelson’s house eventually led Browning to learn that Nickelson shot a small black bear near his residence – an area closed to bear hunting -- and without a license in September 2001.

A deer head and spine found near Nickelson’s house matched blood that was found underneath the moose blood in the shed. Nickelson claimed that he did not know who hung the deer in his shed located next to his house and that cats ate the entire carcass and that is why he discarded the head and spine.

“I had to keep returning to the Nickelson residence because every time I would locate evidence of one animal I would find new evidence of another illegal animal: a deer head and spine, tufts of bear hair, deer hair and blood, mystery meat packages,” Browning said. “Every time I would talk to someone about the case I would learn a little more about something else taken illegally. For awhile, I didn’t know where it was going to end.”

With the help of Fremont County Sheriff’s Deputy Fred Weber and G&F Game Warden Chris Daubin two additional searches of Nickelson’s property – one by consent on his shed and with a search warrant on his house -- revealed even more evidence.

The DNA tests conducted by the G&F Laboratory in Laramie were critical to the success of the case, Browning said. The lab compared blood, meat, hair and claw samples to determine the number, species, sex and even individual animals present in the considerable evidence submitted in the case.

“This information was critical in confirming what violations had occurred and also helped in verifying and refuting what the defendant and witnesses were telling me,” Browning said.

This case had incredible cooperation from many people and agencies including the Wind River Indian Reservation Tribal Fish and Game Department, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

“The Tribal Fish and Game and the Tribal Court were critical to the success of the case,” Browning said. “Tribal Game Wardens Supervisor Ben Warren authorized personnel to assist and Wardens Dale Hereford and John St. Clair were very helpful with interviews of tribal members and retrieving evidence that had been transported to the reservation”.

Browning also praised the prosecution efforts of Fremont County Chief Deputy Attorney Ed Newell and Judge Denhardt. “Mr. Newell knows the value of wildlife and worked to get a firm, yet fair sentencing based upon the circumstances of the case and the defendant,” Browning said. “In Judge Denhardt’s court you know that he has an interest in wildlife, that he takes the time to understand wildlife issues, and that he takes wildlife cases seriously.”

Anyone witnessing or hearing about a wildlife violation should jot down specifics about the event and then call the Stop Poaching hotline (800) 442-4331 or contact a local G&F office. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.

String him up and make an example of him along with any one else caught in blatent acts of poaching...
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