San Miguel Outdoors Ceases Operations
Late last month I warned E-mail Extra subscribers that the booking agency San Miguel Outdoors had closed its doors, leaving both hunt operators and hunting clients in the dark about deposits and pending hunts. San Miguel’s President and Director Michael Gardner sent me the following e-mail in response to my telephone messages and e-mail inquiries: “San Miguel Outdoors, Inc., has not been able to continue its operations due to current economic conditions and has ceased doing business. We apologize for any inconvenience. All communications should be directed to: SMO INC., PO BOX 341478, Austin, Texas 78734.” There was no explanation regarding his clients’ pending hunts or the funds various operators claim he owes them.
At press time San Miguel Outdoors’ web site was down, as well as the site for the San Miguel Ranch, a whitetail hunting operation in Uvalde, Texas, that is also operated by Gardner but under a different corporation. None of the business phone numbers were operational either. I did leave a message on Gardner’s cell phone and home numbers, and I managed to reach his ranch manager, Bret Ferguson, and left a message for Gardner with him as well. As we went to press, Gardner had not gotten back to me.
I first learned something was wrong with the Texas-based operation when I tried reaching Gardner regarding a subscriber complaint about a whitetail hunt conducted for him at the San Miguel Ranch. At the same time, I began receiving phone calls and e-mails from both hunters and operators about problems with payments. One of the operators was Safari Trackers Zimbabwe (not to be confused with Adam Clements Safari Trackers). According to Safari Trackers’ attorney, Ryan Hammit, San Miguel Outdoors owes his client more than $150,000. That includes payments for safaris that were conducted in 2008 and 2009, as well as safaris scheduled for later this season and as far in advance as 2011. Subscriber Walter Broich told me he had completed paying for a muskox hunt in September 2008 and had just learned that San Miguel had yet to forward the funds to his outfitter. The hunt is scheduled for this fall. He says he had also paid for a bighorn hunt in Alberta, and the funds from that never went to the outfitter. “Gardner has not returned any of my calls or e-mails,” he says.
I also heard from Jay Logsdon, who tells me he began working with San Miguel Outdoors from his office in Illinois last October creating a bird hunting program for the company. He says operators began calling him when clients were showing up before payments had been forwarded for their hunts. Logsdon says he was engrossed in trying to get people paid when San Miguel stopped paying his commissions and salary this past February. He says he is in the process of suing Gardner and at press time was awaiting a court date.
Since distributing our e-mail news bulletin in late June, I have heard from several other outfitters who say San Miguel owes them money. Amy Martin of Jack Britting- ham’s Tanzania Adventures says Gardner owes them on a hunt he booked for them in 2007. Martin Pieters of Martin Pieters Safaris in Zimbabwe says he conducted a safari this season for elephant and hippo on the basis that Gardner would forward the complete payment to him. “This never happened,” he says. “I am out a substantial amount of money.” And in Texas, Hunter Ross of Desert Safaris says he is out $21,000 in trophy fees for some Sonora desert mule deer hunts he conducted for eight San Miguel clients just this past January. He says the clients were supposed to have been charged $6,000 each for the hunt, with a $3,500 trophy fee due upon harvest of a deer and payable in camp. He claims clients told him they had paid $10,500, and did not know about the trophy fee. He says Gardner later claimed the bucks taken were cull bucks and refused to pay the trophy fees to Ross. “All six bucks taken were 28 to 32 inches wide and scoring over 170 B & C,” says Ross. He says he and Gardner went into mediation and Gardner offered to pay him over two years. Ross says he has a jury trial date set for August and hopes to recover his losses from San Miguel Outdoors.
As for the subscriber complaint that put me on to all this, it’s from Lanny Rominger. He gives Gardner’s luxury lodge at San Miguel Ranch high marks but is very unhappy with the deer hunting. He says there were few trophy-class bucks outside the ranch’s high-fenced area when he was there on two separate occasions this past season. He hunted the first time in November and returned later in January at a reduced rate. He says the bucks he was told were too young or too small in November were suddenly touted by his guides as mature trophy-class bucks in January.
Representing dozens of hunting operations around the world, San Miguel’s closure is expected to affect a substantial number of clients and outfitters. Anyone with a hunt booked through San Miguel should contact their operator immediately. I would also like to hear from hunters and operators affected by this situation. Send me an e-mail at Barbara @huntingreport.com; or call 305-253-5301. Anyone interested in speaking with attorney Ryan Hammit may reach him by e-mail at ryan@bob joneslaw.com; or call him at 806-744-2505.