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Hunter Who Baited Elk With Salt Loses Appeal

DENVER (CN) - A big-game outfitter who used salt to bait elk and deer for his clients to hunt from tree stands failed to overturn his convictions in the Tenth Circuit.

Dennis Rodebaugh, now 74, was convicted in 2013 on six counts of breaching the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the trade of wildlife and plants that have been obtained unlawfully.

Since 1987, the Meeker, Colo., man had used his business, D & S Guide and Outfitters, to lead out-of-state hunting clients on elk and deer hunts in the White River National Forest.

Wildlife officials got a tip in 2005 about the very high shot percentages Rodebaugh's clients enjoyed, prompting a massive undercover investigation by state and federal agents.

Though Rodebaugh initially denied that he was baiting the animals, the government's hidden cameras caught the man spreading a mineral supplement called "sheep salt" around his tree stands.

Rodebaugh later copped to investigators, saying "what I did is absolutely not right."

At his trial, he "testified he used the salt because he knew animals would come for it," the 10th Circuit's ruling Tuesday on Rodebaugh's appeal states.

Rodebaugh "said animals needed the minerals from the salt to grow horns and provide for their offspring," the ruling continues. "He placed the salt under logs and rocks so the animals would not use it too quickly and so it would have time to soak into the soil, meaning it would be available for longer periods of time."

Federal prison records show that Rodebaugh's 41-month sentence is scheduled to conclude in April 2016. A three-judge panel with the federal appeals court affirmed his convictions Tuesday.

Though Rodebaugh contended that the Colorado law regarding baiting wildlife was unconstitutionally vague, the appellate panel said they "must disregard any facial challenge Mr. Rodebaugh attempts to make."

Rodebaugh had also claimed that his confession was made involuntarily, the result of a lack of sleep and misunderstanding of his rights, but the court found no evidence that Rodebaugh was physically harmed or threatened in the throes of interrogation.

"The interview took place outdoors, at a picnic table, rather than in a police station," according to the lead opinion by Judge Scott Matheson. "Mr. Rodebaugh contends he was not informed that he could cease the interview for rest, water, or food. But the agents actually offered him water. And they told him at least twice he was free to leave and that he did not have to talk to them. He was never told he was not free to leave."

Rodebaugh had an issue with his suppression hearing, as well, claiming that the court put him at a disadvantage in making him present first.

The argument failed to sway the appellate panel.

"Mr. Rodebaugh has failed to demonstrate how presenting first prejudiced him in any way, much less resulted in any manifest injustice," Matheson said.

The court likewise found no issue with a two-level sentencing enhancement Rodebaugh incurred because of the significant risk of disease transmission he created in the wildlife he baited.

Because licking the salt created a more frequent occurrence of direct physical contact with deer and elk noses, Rodebaugh created a dangerous situation for the outbreak of an illness, according to the ruling.

Rodebaugh received a six-level enhancement as well in connection to the estimated "market value" of more than $30,000 for the wildlife that his hunting clients killed.

On this point, the judges noted that there is no legal precedent for the value of deer and elk meat on the Colorado market.

"Here, the district court did not clearly err when it found the fair-market retail price is difficult to discern because there is no fair market for wild deer or elk," Matheson said. "Such a market would be illegal under Colorado law."

Mr. Rodebaugh faced a two-level enhancement for perjuring himself. Under oath, he had said that he placed salt on the tree stands only in the spring or early spring, adding that he believed such baiting was legal as long, as the salt was gone before the hunters came. The court said found statements untrue.

The panel was split in rejecting Rodebaugh's challenges to the conditions of his supervised release. For three years, Rodebaugh will be unable to hunt and fish for pleasure, or to work as a hunting guide and outfitter.

The plurality rejected Rodebaugh's appeal on the occupational restriction based on his failure to make an official objection to it at his sentencing.

"We decline to excuse Mr. Rodebaugh's failure to preserve the objection based on how the government handled the issue," Judge Robert Bacharach wrote, joined by Judge Nancy Moritz.

Matheson said the panel should have reached the merits of this challenge, noting that the trial court failed to show whether it had considered a less-restrictive punishment, or how the restriction would affect Rodebaugh's ability to make money.

"Because the district court failed to make the necessary findings, I would vacate the occupational restriction and remand," Matheson wrote.

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