Mountain range draws hunters by day, smugglers by night - CBS 5 - KPHO

Mountain range draws hunters by day, smugglers by night

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Hundreds of hunters head to the Tumacacori Mountains in Southern Arizona every winter, but this year local law enforcement officials worry about a possible armed confrontation between the hunters and drug smugglers.

"There's always that concern obviously because these individuals may find that as a threat," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada.

Estrada's office is investigating a triple murder that took place in the Tumacacori Mountains in November. He said the victims were likely drug smugglers who were attacked by bandits.

"We can only assume that they were either scouts or part of a group that were bringing drugs over, or that they were part of a group, or that this was a message that was being sent, 'This is our territory. Stay out of here,'" said Estrada.

But the threat is not keeping hunters away. Hidden cameras set up in the Tumacacori Mountains by CBS 5 Investigates captured images of hunters, deer and javelina during the day. The same camera caught images of illegal immigrants using the same trails by night.

"We see mountain lions, rattlesnakes, it's awesome! I don't know what else to tell you. It's definitely Arizona," said Ed Pongratz, a hunter from the Valley who travels to the Tumacacori Mountains every year with his brother and cousin.

Two years ago, they came face to face with an armed human smuggler, known as a coyote.

"There was 12 of them. First one, the coyote, and then 11 guys. And right when they were confronted, they scattered," said Pongratz.

Estrada believes the smugglers try to avoid hunters and ranchers just like they try to avoid authorities. He says attention is bad for their business, but he also warns hunters to stay alert.

"It could create a really difficult and dangerous situation for people out there," said Estrada.

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