Wild Goose Chase

Ron Ruhr thinks a lot of himself, but not as much as Colorado wildlife officials did.

Friday, May 5, started out cloudless and hot. By 8:30 a.m., Ron Ruhr's girlfriend had left for work and her ten-year-old daughter had gone to school. But Ruhr, a self-employed carpenter, had set aside this day to have some fun. Bill, a man he had taken goose hunting, was so grateful for Ruhr's guidance that he had offered to buy him some gear at Cabela's, a veritable candy store for sportsmen, selling everything from gun benches and camouflage rubber boots to snowmobile accessories and boat motors.

Bill had said they'd meet at Ruhr's Longmont house at nine so they could get an early start for the long drive to the nearest Cabela's, which is in Sidney, Nebraska. It was going to be a good day.

Ruhr left his house briefly to take the younger of his two Chesapeake Bay retrievers to a nearby watering hole to cool off. As he headed home on his bike a few minutes before nine, he watched a Colorado Division of Wildlife truck turn onto his street. Six more trucks followed. They stopped in front of Ruhr's one-level wood-and-brick home, and about ten officers got out. Ruhr was surprised, but in the few seconds he had to process what was going on, he at first thought it was a nice surprise -- an impromptu visit for some tips on goose hunting from an acknowledged expert, perhaps.

Loose goose: Ron Ruhr was investigated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Jay Bevenour
Loose goose: Ron Ruhr was investigated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Loose goose: Ron Ruhr was investigated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Mark A. Manger
Loose goose: Ron Ruhr was investigated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"You guys want to know about hunting?" Ruhr asked as he approached the men.

"Oh, yeah, we want to know about hunting, all right," one of them answered.

In fact, the wildlife officers wanted to know every detail of Ruhr's hunting outfit, Out of the Blue Guide Service, and his hunting trips -- where he went and how often, what he shot and why.

To Ruhr's shock, the armed officers flashed a search warrant and marched into his house. They removed every picture from the walls, rifled everything, including his girlfriend's underwear drawer, and emptied every closet. Slowly and methodically, they pulled soup cans, cereal boxes and potato chip bags out of Ruhr's kitchen cabinets. They searched his refrigerator, looked under his bed, pulled out the cushions on his couches and combed every single folder, book, journal and scrap of paper in his study and den.

While some of them boxed up his bank records, hunting gear and shotguns and carted them out, Ruhr sat in his living room with other officers who asked him questions about hunting just as casually as if they were shooting the shit over a couple of cold ones. Ruhr says they seemed to be impressed by his knowledge of snow geese, the species in which he specializes. When the officers were done with his house, they searched the red 1991 Nissan pickup truck Ruhr takes on all of his hunting trips. Then they went through the cargo trailer parked in his gravel driveway.

The men didn't leave Ruhr's house until 2:30 p.m. Bill never showed.

State officials had their eyes on Ruhr long before they descended on his quiet subdivision west of U.S. Highway 287 -- since March 11, 1998, actually, the day the Denver Post ran a glowing feature story about Ruhr and his passion for snow goose hunting. It wasn't the first time Ruhr had been written about; he'd been mentioned in the Rocky Mountain News and quoted frequently in the Post as an expert on the species. But it was the first time Cathy Wells, program administrator for Colorado's Office of Outfitters Registration, had heard about Ruhr.

She says someone from a law-enforcement agency sent her the article, and when she looked up Out of the Blue Guide Service, she found that it wasn't registered with her office. Anyone who charges hunters or fishers for the use of equipment or guide services is required to be registered with the state; hunting waterfowl without the proper registration is a misdemeanor. So Wells hired independent investigator Bill Sivils, aka "Bill," to look into Ruhr's activities.

Ruhr has never been a registered outfitter; he's been guiding goose-hunting trips in Texas and Colorado for more than a decade, but he's always worked as a contractor for another outfitter. It was cheaper and easier that way, he says, because in addition to paying the initial registration fee ($375 in Colorado this year), outfitters must also be bonded and insured and pay an annual renewal charge. Since Ruhr hunts in Colorado only about nine days a year -- he spends most of the season guiding in Texas, where the snow geese are more plentiful, then returns to Colorado in February or March to catch the flock heading north at the end of the season -- the cost and the amount of paperwork involved in being an outfitter aren't worth it.

There is nothing wrong with that arrangement; Colorado law doesn't require an individual guide to be registered as long as the company he's working for is. Ruhr started Out of the Blue Guide Service five years ago but continued to work for various private hunters who had their own outfitter registrations. Ruhr says he can't recall which company he was guiding for in March 1998, the month that Wells noticed the article about him.

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