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Nugent acted ethically in Alaska bear hunt, if not legally

Craig Medred
Lenny Francioni via Wikipedia Commons

Who knows how many lies Ted Nugent has now told in relation to the Southeast Alaska bear hunt that got him in trouble with the law, but it's time someone rises in his defense on the subject of hunting ethics. On that one subject, too much is being said by too many who know nothing about hunting, and much of it is unfair to Nugent.

Let us start with the comments of an Anchorage newspaper columnist -- a perky, young, city woman -- who wouldn't know a .375-caliber H&H rifle from a .243-caliber, and thus doesn't possess a clue as to why one one them is bad for hunting bears. She hints that Nugent, who got in trouble for wounding one Southeast bear and then killing another, might, in fact, have killed two bears.

"The extent of its (the first bear's) injuries is unclear," she writes.

Well, if one believes the videotape of the hunt and an account of the hunt Nugent wrote for a publication called "Texas Fish & Game" immediately after the hunt (and there is no reason to disbelieve either), the extent of the injuries to the bear are actually pretty clear. Here's what Nugent wrote happened after a search for the bear ended when a blood-trail quickly dried up, a sign the animal had stopped bleeding.

"Deciding to gather reinforcements back at the Eldorado (boat), we played the tape (of the shooting) on the HD big screen and stopped the frame when the arrow struck. What we saw shocked everybody, for the arrow did indeed hit perfectly—but upon impact, the nearly horizontal arrow abruptly turned near vertical and instead of penetrating the ribcage, sliced just under the skin following the contour of the ribcage, exiting on the outside of the ribs on the same side it hit. Phenomenal. My tree stand was quite high, and the angle of the shot rather acute, thereby allowing the broadhead to slide down the rib instead of blasting through it."

This sort of thing is not uncommon. It can happen almost as easily with a bullet as with an arrow, and in cases such as that described in detail by Nugent the injuries to the animal are not fatal. In this case, the bear suffered an arrow cut along its flank. In the world of bears, it was tantamount to a paper cut on a human. Others who have seen the videotape to which Nugent refers confirm the story he tells. There is no doubt on the part of anyone who knows anything about hunting that the bear survived.

And Nugent did not go hunting for another bear until he knew this bear had escaped alive and would survive. In that respect, he held to the highest ethical standards of hunting and actually conformed with the intent of the law he broke. Unfortunately, he did not conform with the letter of that law, but more on that later. First let's get into the law.

Money talks, ethics walks

The aforementioned, Anchorage newspaper authority on hunting who doesn't hunt believes the law has something to do with the "rugged, mountainous region of Southeast," but in reality it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with climate, conservation and, of course, money. Let's start with the climate. Southeast is the land of the coastal rain forest. The rain forest is lush and, duh, it rains there a lot. Rain tends to wash out a blood trail pretty fast. Lush vegetation makes it harder to track. Both things increase the risk of wounded animals escaping to die without ever being found, whether in the mountainous parts of the region or the rare flat parts. And wounded bears escaping to die was a problem in Southeast, although our armchair expert again makes a mess of things with that too.

"Guides felt it wasn't ethical to wound one bear without knowing whether it had been killed and then to shoot and kill a second one," she writes.

Actually not. Every year in every state, hunters shoot and wound animals which then escape. Ethical hunters make exhaustive efforts to find these animals, but if the animal is not found, no one considers it unethical to go shoot another. The Southeast regulation is unique in this regard. It is so unique that the vast majority of American hunters are unaware, as Nugent asserts, of a regulation requiring them to quit hunting after wounding an animal. Nugent is trying to use this fact to his political advantage.

The move is more than a little disingenuous because Nugent is not your average American hunter. The rule foreign to the average American hunter is not foreign to Nugent. Nugent has done some hunting in Africa, and in Africa this rule is common.

Why? Because hunting in Africa is a business, and the animals are worth a lot of money to guides and outfitters. To them, an animal that is wounded and wanders off to die without ever being found is worth the same as an animal shot dead. So it is common to charge people to "shoot" the animal, and if the shot animal is not found, that's it. Unless, of course, you want to pay to shoot another. It isn't about ethics. It's about money.

Wounding loss and bag limits

In Southeast, it wasn't about ethics either. It was in part about money, as in Africa, and in part about conservation. The conservation part had to do with the concerns of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that black bears on Prince of Wales Island were being over-harvested. Read more about that from an Alaska Department of Fish and Game publication. Suffice to say, bear kills in the area were on the upswing, and wildlife biologists were worried.

One quick and easy way to immediately reduce the number of dead bears was to eliminate what is called "wounding loss." If say 20 percent of the bears that die are bears shot and wounded but never found, eliminating this wounding loss would be the same as changing seasons and bag limits to cut the harvest by 20 percent.

All of which is where we get into the issue of money. If you're a guide, a shorter season means you book fewer hunters and you lose money. Worse though, with the bag limit in Southeast already down to one bear at the time, there was talk of going to drawing-permit hunts to limit the number hunters. Limiting the number of hunters is really bad for business.

All of which played a role in what happened in Southeast, where the Board of Game wrote a unique rule on what constitutes a hunter's "bag limit."

"Apparently, the rule isn't as obscure as Nugent would have you believe," Anchorage's non-hunting, armchair expert proclaims. Apparently, one must observe, she knows nothing about hunting in Alaska or America. The rule is obscure. There are no two ways around that. It applies only to black bear hunts in Southeast and elk hunts on Kodiak Island. Not to black bear hunts in the bulk of Alaska, or to moose, caribou, deer, Dall sheep, mountain goat, grouse, goose, duck or other hunts. There are a tiny, tiny minority of Alaska hunters involved in Southeast bear hunts or Kodiak elk hunts.

Almost no hunters in the Anchorage, Mat-Su or Fairbanks areas -- and this is the majority of Alaska hunters -- appear to have been aware of this regulation. I polled a bunch. I confess I was unaware of the regulation until Nugent made the news. And I have hunted Alaska for almost 30 years. For many of those years, I was the outdoor editor at the Anchorage Daily News. I think it's fair to say I paid more attention to the regulations than the average hunter. And still I didn't know. "Obscure" would be a fair word to describe this regulation, which might why be why it appears no one was charged with violating it until the Nugent case came along. He got special treatment.

Maybe there was a reason. Maybe there was more than one.

Because although Nugent acted ethically here, at least in hunting terms, he most certainly didn't act legally in regards to the law, and he has been lying through his teeth about what happened ever since his legal problems made the news. Compare what he wrote for "Texas Fish & Game" about the 2009 hunt to what he told Handgunsmag.com just the other day: "My son and I, as always, searched diligently for many hours, even days" for the bear.

Now the 2009 account: "We had a decent bloodtrail for 100 yards, then it petered out completely. Perturbed, we examined the videotape footage and were immediately reassured of our eye-witnessed arrow placement." Then he describes going back to the fishing boat, Eldorado, (as quoted above) to get a better look at the tape. It doesn't take "hours," let alone "many hours," to follow a blood trail 100 yards. As for the "days" involved in the search, Nugent wrote that he resumed hunting for another bear the next day, having seen the video on a big-screen HD back on the Eldorado and having realized he merely nicked the first bear he wounded.

The big, lingering question concerns what happened on the boat. "Deciding to gather reinforcements back at the Eldorado, we played the tape on the HD big screen...," Nugent wrote. Among the "reinforcements" his account places on the boat are "Gary Sims" and "Captain Kenny." Sims is a member of the Sims family from Shelton, Wash. Most of the family is involved in a company called "Sims Vibration Laboratory," which was at the time of Nugent's hunt listed as the owner of the Eldorado. Sims Vibration manufactures archery accessories. The records of the the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission indicate that one of several Sims brothers, or Kenny Quigley from Craig, a small village in Southeast, has been fishing the Eldorado in Southeast for years.

Nugent himself wrote glowingly of one of the Sims brothers in an account of a 2005 bear hunt in Southeast. "Connecting hands-on with the wilderness here since 1975, Eldorado Captain Mike Sims is one of a handful of modern day Davy Crockett meets Captain Cook," Nugent wrote. It's a little hard to believe that the "modern-day Davy Crockett" and his brother Gary would be unaware that the state had imposed in Southeast a somewhat controversial bear hunting regulation Nugent's lawyer has described as "crazy."

It is especially hard to believe they missed this given that the Alaska Bowhunters Association, and other archers, had tried to get bow hunters exempted from the new rule saying that if a hunter draws blood on a bear, he or she has filled the bag limit and must quit hunting. "They made good enough points too; we just felt you couldn't blanket give all bowhunters a loophole," said Mark Richards of Alaska Backcountry Anglers and Hunters, one of the groups that backed the regulation. He noted the proposal generated a lot of discussion in the bow-hunting community, and Nugent is a serious bow hunter.

And then, of course, there is the matter of the Eldorado's "Captain Kenny."

Sometimes Eldorado skipper Kenny Quigley was a black-bear hunting guide on Prince of Wales Island until the state of Alaska busted him for guiding without a license in 2008. His arrest, Juneau radio station KINY reported at the time, came "as a result of a long term investigation which included an undercover guided black bear hunt on Prince of Wales Island and the surrounding area. As a result of the plea multiple other wildlife related crimes will not be charged against Quigley, according to State Troopers. Quigley was sentenced to 180 days in jail all suspended, ordered to pay $30,000 in fines with $25,000 suspended and also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution.A boat that was used during the guided hunt was forfeited to the state. As part of the agreement Quigley was allowed to purchase the boat back for $10,000."

Politics at play

Whether Quigley was guiding legally or illegally on Prince of Wales, it is hard to believe he didn't know the details of the bear hunting regulation there. All the other guides do. The armchair Anchorage hunting expert does have it right when she quotes Neil Barten, Fish and Game's wildlife management coordinator in Southeast, saying "all of our hunting guides are very well aware of it because they wanted it in the first place." Or more accurately, Barten has it right. The guides know, because it's their business to know.

But maybe no one on the Eldorado watching that video told Nugent. Maybe.

Or maybe Nugent just decided, "What the hell. I'm not breaking the intent of the law, only the letter." And now maybe he should just keep his mouth shut before he digs himself in any deeper. Just as those who know nothing about hunting should limit themselves to speculating on the things about which they probably know as much as anyone else, like whether the feds would stick it to Nugent because he has been an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama.

Nugent is trying to spin the story of his Alaska conviction in that direction. This is good business for a celebrity musician who long ago tied his wagon to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, some of those who don't like the NRA -- I won't name names -- are trying to spin the story the opposite way. Does anyone really know the truth on this one? No. Has anyone any special insight into what lurks in the heart of federal prosecutor Jack Schmidt? No.

Schmidt had a case on which he thought could get a conviction, and he got it. He could just as easily have walked away. It happens all the time. Federal prosecutors have a lot of discretion in these matters, for better or worse. They appear to have walked away from a case that indicated Alaska Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, illegally used campaign contributions for travel to and from Alaska. Nobody but Schmidt knows exactly why he decided to pursue Nugent on a charge that is far more about smoke than fire.

"For him (Nugent) to say that it has anything to do with politics is ridiculous," Schmidt offered in his defense to Anchorage's armchair expert.

For Schmidt to make such a statement is even more ridiculous, on not one but several levels. In the first place, it is perfectly sensible -- not ridiculous -- for Nugent to try to put some political spin on the story. It plays to his constituency. It makes him a hero to some of them. Talking head Glenn Beck appears to love it.

Likewise, it is perfectly sensible -- not ridiculous -- to believe that a federal prosecutor in normally invisible Southeast Alaska might have something to gain by nailing a celebrity's hide to the wall, especially a celebrity who has been saying bad things about the president. It's worth noting here that the state filed no charges, though state prosecutors obviously could have. Was this because state lawyer's were satisfied Nugent followed the intent of the law if not the letter? Who knows.

What is clear is that Schmidt raised his profile in a big way with this case. It's hard to believe that being remembered as the guy who convicted Ted Nugent is going to hurt him.

Meanwhile, it's just nonsense believe there aren't politics at play here. This is politics at play on a whole bunch of levels. Nugent for one is doing his best to make it look like he got in trouble because of a vast, left-wing conspiracy to get all hunters. There are hunters who believe this conspiracy nonsense. And that's almost as goofy as believing Nugent represents all hunters, or Schmidt's suggestion there are no politics involved.

Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com