Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Are today’s hunting videos bad for hunting?

This week’s column takes a hard look at today’s hunting videos:

Question: Just how realistic are the hunting videos that turn up on cable TV and on the Internet?
Answer: Most of them aren’t realistic at all. In my opinion, those that aren’t do more to harm the public’s image of hunters than they could ever hope to advance it.
Almost all of these videos are taped on private game ranches or hunting preserves. Some of them are even taped on so-called “high-fence” preserves where the animals are herded into 1- to 3-acre pens to be shot. And even on unfenced preserves, the animals are often lured within shooting range with bait.
As someone who once worked in the television industry, I completely understand why hunting-show producers choose such locations for their video shoots. Video crews are expensive. The sooner the necessary footage can be secured, the lower the production costs.
Why send a crew out for a week on heavily hunted public land, where the host/hunter probably won’t bag a trophy-sized animal, when they could spend a day or two on a private preserve and videotape a true trophy hunt? The show’s host pads his or her “street cred” as a hunter and the producers save money. It’s a no-brainer.
As successful as that approach appears to be, I see at least six problems with it.
One, it results in an ever-escalating “arms race.” If Show A’s host bags a heavy-antlered 10-point buck on his show, rival Show B’s host feels compelled to bag a 12-pointer or larger to avoid losing face. In the process, viewers are subjected to an endless procession of hunts they could not remotely hope to experience for themselves.
Two, the hunts in their final, heavily edited versions seldom reflect what actually happened. In an effort to create flow and continuity, producers and editors often take a snippet from here and a snippet from there and patch together idealized versions of what they conceive trophy hunts to be.
Three, the videos often create unrealistic expectations, especially among inexperienced hunters. Face it, real-world hunting is usually much, much more difficult and time consuming than the Fantasy Island hunts depicted on videos and TV. Hunters who aren’t wealthy – or who aren’t privileged TV hosts – sometimes spend entire seasons perched in their tree stands without getting a single shot at a trophy animal.
Four, consumers are starting to wise up. Jimmy Houston, a popular fishing- and hunting-show host, lost a ton of credibility several years back when word got out that one of his trophy-buck hunts was taped in a small enclosure on an Indiana high-fence preserve. Houston had depicted the hunt as fair chase when it was anything but.
Five, hunting-show producers’ emphasis on canned and baited hunts cost hunters a ton of good will with the non-hunting public. Anti-hunters will always be against hunting, and little can be done to persuade them otherwise. Most non-hunters take a more neutral stance. As long as hunters abide by the law and subscribe to fair-chase practices, the vast majority of non-hunters will continue to tolerate hunting as a pastime.
But as soon as they perceive hunters as wanton or unsporting, the jig is up. They’ll join forces with the antis, and hunting as we know it will become as extinct as the passenger pigeon.
Finally, producers’ slavish dedication to inserting “impact shots” or “kill shots” into their videos has become downright offensive – at least to me. I understand that those images help create the impression that the host’s participation wasn’t staged, but I also believe that non-hunters find them offensive.
We hunters are used to seeing them, and they don’t bother us. But they sure might turn off some youngsters who, with careful nurturing, might otherwise have become hunters.

Hunting video haunts country music star

A screen capture from the video

In this age of instant electronic communications, it amazes me that some people haven’t yet learned to keep their illegal acts to themselves.

The latest case in point: Troy Gentry of the popular Montgomery Gentry country-music duo. An animal-welfare group has obtained a court order that allowed them to post video of Gentry taking part in an illegal bear kill.

Gentry killed the 600-pound black bear three years ago in a 3-acre pen on a Minnesota game preserve. He paid the bear’s owner more than $4,000 for the privilege of shooting it. For some strange reason, Gentry made a point of having the “hunt” videotaped, and staged the event to make it appear as if the bear had been killed in the wild.

The law caught up with Gentry when he falsely claimed to have killed the bear in a location several miles distant from the game farm. Gentry paid a $15,000 fine and lost his Minnesota hunting privileges for five years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated the video. An animal-welfare group called SHARK — Showing Animals Respect and Kindness — sued to have it released. The group won, and on Monday posted the footage on YouTube.

I’m sure Gentry believed he had put the incident behind him. Now he knows a truism we bloggers deal with daily: Seasons come and go, but the Internet is forever.

It’s one thing to talk the talk. Jim Karpowitz walked the talk.

Karpowitz, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife, struck a blow for hunting ethics recently when he called up wildlife law enforcement officers and asked them to write him a ticket.

He had been hunting sage grouse on a ranch near the borders of Rich and Morgan counties. After his hunt, he discovered that he had killed two grouse in Morgan County. His permit was good only for Rich County. The border was unmarked, and Karpowitz was unaware that he had crossed the boundary until afterward.

When he found out he had crossed the line, literally and figuratively, he asked to be cited for the incident. He also wrote all 500 Division of Wildlife employees to acknowledge his transgression. This week, Karpowitz pleaded guilty to the citation’s charges and was fined $138.

In a time when public officials consistently seek to avoid responsibility for illegal, immoral or unethical actions, Karpowitz readily assumed responsibility and accepted the consequences. Good for him.

My friend Brett Prettyman has the full story in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

Park officials with the 24-point buck

Add Steve Harmon of Dunlap, Tenn., to the list of poachers done in by their own braggadocio.

After poaching a huge 24-point buck from Pyramid State Park in southern Illinois, Harmon just couldn’t contain himself. He sent cell-phone photos of the kill to some of his friends.

Later, he went and bought an Illinois buck tag. After he bought the tag, he checked in the trophy buck.

Long story short, he got caught. A Tennessee conservation officer later caught Harmon hunting in his home state without a license. He found it odd that Harmon would have an Illinois license and not have a Tennessee license. The officer did some checking and found Harmon’s cell-phone photos of the 24-pointer. He called Illinois conservation officers and learned that Harmon had purchased the buck license after the cell-phone photos were taken.

Busted! Harmon was fined and was forced to give up the mount he’d had made of the buck. The mount was recently returned to Pyramid State Park, where it will be kept on display.

The full story is here, in the Chattanoogan.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

Rhino poaching surges in South Africa

Poachers' prey

The battle against wildlife poaching is a lot like an arms race. Poachers find effective methods, and law enforcement officials discover effective countermeasures.

It appears the pendulum in Africa has swung the poachers’ way again. South African authorities report a twenty-fold increase in rhinoceros poaching in that country.

It’s easy to understand why. Rhino horns, prized in Asia for alleged medicinal qualities, can sell for as much as $30,000 a pound. The average horn weighs about 5 pounds, so there’s plenty of economic incentive to poach.

The Christian Science Monitor has a complete story on the situation, and it makes for an interesting read. Disturbing, but interesting.

Feds crack down on alleged poaching operation

A Fed crackdown on poaching?

Are Monday’s federal charges against two Kansas deer-hunting outfitters a legitimate attempt to go after big-game poaching, or is it — as the defendants’ lawyer called it — “our tax money … being spent making federal cases out of alleged rednecks who supposedly harvest an extra deer?”

The charges center on 60 hunters who paid 3,500 to $5,000 for deer hunts at the Camp Lone Star hunting club in Coldwater, Kan. The 23-count indictment alleges that the hunters illegally killed 119 deer between 2005 and 2008. The total included 70 trophy whitetails.

The most serious charges were brought against James Butler, 41, who owns Camp Lone Star; and his brother Marlin Butler, 36,  who serves as a guide at the facility.

The brothers are accused of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, a federal law that prohibits the interstate transportation of illegally killed wildlife. If convicted, the Butlers face lengthy jail terms and serious fines.

The complete Associated Press story can be found here.

Sorry, Uncle Ted; you screwed up

Say it ain't so, Ted…

Word comes from California that rocker/hunter/activist Ted Nugent has pleaded no contest to two hunting-law violations and has been fined $1,750.

According to the account in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Nugent used a commercial deer-scent attractant during a hunt filmed for his “Spirit of the Wild” television show. That’s a no-no in California, which has strict rules about deer-baiting.

During the hunt, Nugent shot a spike buck — also a no-no. And then he failed to check the deer “at the nearest possible location,” yet another no-no. Prosecutors eventually dropped the spike-buck charge, but made the other two stick.

Reading between the lines of the news account, it appears Nugent might not have been aware that he was breaking any laws. Sorry, that’s no excuse. Uncle Ted should know by now that there’s a whole nation full of anti-gun, anti-hunting activists eager to pounce on his first slip-up.

When you’re in the public eye and you preach ethics and “rule of law,” you darned well better make yourself familiar with the laws of the places you hunt. Ted apparently didn’t, and he’s paid a price. I’m afraid, though, that the $1,750 fine he’s paid isn’t nearly as significant as the credibility he’s lost. Sadly, his enemies will beat him over the head with this for as long as he remains a public figure.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.

Maybe poachers will think twice now

Every once in a while, a news item comes along that makes you feel a little better about the world.

Late last week, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources got its first conviction under a new law designed to protect trophy bucks from poachers. Two men, 22-year-old Mike Chapman of Aurora and an unnamed juvenile from Tucker County, were fined $2,414.80 for shooting and killing a buck out of season.

The buck’s antlers — though still in velvet — measured nearly 16 inches at their widest point. The antlers’ size allowed Chapman and the juvenile to be prosecuted under the state’s new anti-poaching law, which requires higher replacement costs for bucks with bigger antlers.

The old law required a blanket $200 replacement fee for a deer of any size. The new law requires a supplemental $1,000 fee for a buck with antlers with spreads of 14 to 16 inches, $1,500 for bucks with spreads from 16 to 18 inches, $2,000 for bucks with spreads from 18 to 20 inches, and $2,500 for bucks with spreads greater than 20 inches.

Maybe now poachers will think twice before pulling the trigger.

Be careful what you pick up beside the road

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

A Sanford, Fla., man who tried to catch an alligator he saw alongside the road has only some nasty wounds and a wildlife citation to show for his trouble.

The Orlando Sentinel has the story of Dirk Alan Willms, who no doubt regrets his choice to catch the gator and take it home. The 45-inch reptile bit Willms when he tried to pick it up by the tail and bit him again when he tried to pull it out of a roadside bush.

A neighbor saw Willms carrying the gator into his home and called the authorities. Naomii Tye, an officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, investigated. She wrote Willms a ticket for illegal possession of an alligator and advised him to seek medical help for the rather nasty cuts and puncture wounds he’d accumulated.

A real blood-pressure raiser

Yesterday afternoon I ventured out to shoot some photos for an upcoming feature story. I visited two Kanawha River fishing-access piers — one at the Marmet Locks and Dam and the other at the Winfield Locks and Dam.

One can always find at least a little litter at those areas, but what I saw yesterday at Marmet made my blood boil. The concrete catwalk that straddles the piers looked as if someone had exploded a litter bomb. It was impossible to walk 5 feet without passing a Styrofoam worm tub, an empty lure box, a drink cup, a tangle of discarded monofilament, a chicken liver container or some similar piece of detritus.

How much effort would it have taken for the anglers (I won’t call them sportsmen) who discarded those items to carry them back home and dispose of them? We all know the answer — hardly any. And that’s what makes the sight of litter so galling to anyone who gives half a hoot.

One thing’s for sure — I’ll be addressing the subject of littering in an upcoming Woods & Waters page in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, and chances are I won’t be mincing any words. Grrrr……