Regulations in New Mexico regarding what are called landowner agent guided hunts can leave hunters unprotected from a guide's or outfitter's negligence. According to Matt Seidel, Outfitter and Guide Registrar for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, only guides and outfitters working on public land or acquiring trespass rights to hunt private property are required to register with the state and secure a license. Operators who guide on private land as what are called authorized landowner agents are not required to be licensed. This means that the State of New Mexico cannot sanction or prosecute the agent of a landowner for any outfitting/guiding violations or negligence. Clients hunting with a landowner agent have no recourse except in civil court.
This is exactly the situation subscriber Russell Wangen found himself in back in September of 2006 when he hunted with Kevin Sears of Southern Divide, booking agent Rick Sears of Apache Park Trophy Hunts. Wangen hunted with Kevin Sears, for elk and mule deer on private property. After three days of elk hunting, he learned from a Game and Fish officer that he was hunting the wrong property in violation of the law and could be charged with illegal hunting. Eventually, Wangen was cleared of any wrongdoing, as he was relying on a guide working for Kevin Sears. Turns out his guide did not have to be licensed, and neither did Kevin Sears who had just lost his outfitter's registration in New Mexico on September 28, 2006, according to Seidel.
Wangen says many things went wrong on this hunt, including many miscommunications on where to meet his guide. He says the hunt was unorganized, he was never taken to sight-in his rifle and his guide was unfamiliar with the area. He also says that there seemed to be a lot of hunting pressure on the property he hunted, and game was scarce. When he tried to complain to Game and Fish, he learned there was nothing they could do except charge the guide with illegal hunting because he was not on the property where he was contracted as a landowner agent.
Seidel says hunters going to New Mexico on a guided hunt should always check to make sure they have contracted with a licensed and registered outfitter or guide. He maintains a list of both on the New Mexico web site. Click on Hunting, then Guide & Outfitter Page. There is also a quick fact sheet explaining the difference between a landowner agent and an outfitter-guide. Seidel can also tell hunters if there are complaints filed against an operator and how long he has been registered. The last few years, he has also kept files of complaints lodged against landowner agents, even though he cannot actually take any action against them. Incidentally, we sent Apache Park a copy of the complaint Wan- gen sent The Hunting Report this past January. No one from the company had responded as this issue went to press.