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Why did Ted Nugent spin his illegal Alaska hunt?

Craig Medred
Lenny Francioni via Wikipedia Commons

Oh boy, now Ted Nugent is making himself out to be either a coward or a liar. There aren't any other choices after what he said in an interview with Handgunsmag.com the other day.

By now, most everyone knows the backstory on why the rocker turned talker is in the news, but for those who don't, here's a quick summary: While in Southeast Alaska in 2009, Nugent violated a somewhat bizarre bear-hunting law designed to end the loss of wounded bears. The Southeast outing was filmed for a television hunting show. Someone watched the videotape, realized Nugent had committed a crime by letting a bear escape after being hit with an arrow and then killing another bear. The incident was reported to authorities. It became a federal case, which Nugent made go away in a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney, under which he agreed to pay a $10,000 fine, put an advertisement on his television show saying hunters should obey the law, and agree not to hunt or fish in Alaska for a year.

And here is how Nugent spun all that to Handguns:

"Just like in California, to fight the corrupt system would have bankrupted me, taken me away from my life support careers for God knows how long, and I don't trust our court system. This Alaska charge was an unintentional technical violation of an unprecedented, never-before-heard-of law, only in the southeast region of Alaska, where if your bullet or arrow shows any sign of hitting a bear, then your tag is invalidated. I still can't find anyone who has ever heard of such a regulation, even amongst lifetime Alaska resident hunters, guides and outfitters, even the judge in Ketchikan stated on record during the court hearing that he had never heard of such a law. I was blindsided by this, and to my knowledge, the only person to ever be charged under this bizarre regulation."

"The corrupt system?" "An unprecedented, never-before-heard of law?" "Blindsided?" "A bizarre regulation?"

Where's the fight?

Anyone who truly believes these things fights the charge in court, or he is a coward, no two ways about it. And trust me, I'm not blowing smoke. I once spent thousands of dollars fighting the Alaska Railroad in court because of a "bizarre regulation." The railroad took the position it was illegal to not only walk on their tracks but to cross them anyplace except a designated crossing. Since the tracks wrap around the mouth of the Twentymile River valley, this "unprecedented" sort of rule (written, by the way, by a state-owned entity that doesn't think it must abide by state regulatory standards), basically eliminated foot access to a big chunk of the Chugach National Forest from Seward Highway.

The Twentymile happens to be one of my favorite places to hunt waterfowl. So I ignored the railroad's rules. Some might even argue that I pushed the issue by hauling a canoe up its tracks to get to some sloughs back in the valley. The railroad cited me for trespass. I went to court with a simple argument: If the railroad's position is that you can't cross its tracks anywhere except a designated crossing, Alaskans have lost access to a whole lot of Alaska without anyone conducting any sort of formal regulation-writing process. A judge listened to the argument, decided I had a valid reason to believe the railroad was acting illegally, judged me not guilty, and told me to try to stay out of trouble.

I confess the latter is not easy. When there are bad laws, or bad people enforcing those laws, Americans have a responsibility to get into trouble. Ask old Jim Wilde from Central, Alaska. He's an old man who had the courage to stand up to the National Park Service after rangers stuck a gun in his face for no good reason. He's spent thousands of dollars on legal defense and he's still fighting.

And what did Nugent do? He cut and ran because "to fight the corrupt system would have bankrupted me?"

Give me a break. Nugent is estimated to be worth about $20 million. That's a lot more than Wilde is worth. It's about a million times more than I'm worth at the moment. And all of this ignores the online power of any potential "Ted Nugent Defense Fund." Nugent is a celebrity darling board member of the National Rifle Association. He could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a heartbeat, maybe millions.

So he's either a coward who backed away from the fight or he's a liar when he says he violated a "never-before-heard-of law, only in the southeast region of Alaska, where if your bullet or arrow shows any sign of hitting a bear, then your tag is invalidated. I still can't find anyone who has ever heard of such a regulation …"

He hasn't looked very hard. I found a fair number of Alaska hunters who have heard of the regulation. Some of them are suspicious Nugent himself knew of the regulation. It was, they say, big talk among bowhunters at the time of enactment.

"Ted or his crew had to know about the wounding reg," one of them said. "It made all the bowhunting forums in 2008 when it came about. (I) don't have access to Ted's forum but I would be surprised if it wasn't mentioned as it had a lot of opposition from bowhunters who are closer and can 'see' if it is a good hit or 'nick.' Obviously, from Ted's own forum a commenter posted on (Alaska) Dispatch, initially they thought it was a dead bear. Only after reviewing the tape did they see what happened."

And what had happened, everyone seems to agree, was the arrow loosed by Nugent in 2009 hit the bear square on a rib at a downward angle and deflected down and away. It happens. The bear got lucky. Getting hit like this results in little more than a slice, like a knife cut, down the bear's flank. The animal survives. The injury is far less than what another bear might inflict in a fight.

Nugent, in his defense, clearly didn't break the intent of the law, which was to prevent wounded bears from wandering away to die and hunters going on to kill another bear. This was a conservation measure imposed in Southeast because of concerns about bear harvests. The Alaska Board of Game wanted to make sure the "one-bear" bag limit meant hunters killed only one bear. 

It's not a particularly good regulation. It encourages hunters to avoid looking for wounded animals. Better to declare a clean miss on a bear that runs off than to find blood and end the hunt before bagging a bear, right?

Not to mention that the law is awfully hard to enforce. Either your hunting buddies have to rat you out, or you have to save some video showing exactly what you did, which was apparently the case with Nugent. He saved the evidence that he broke the law. And he broke the law. And if he broke it knowing he was breaking it and then shipped the bear hide out of state, then the Feds can potentially slap a felony Lacey Act violation.

Stay out of federal court 

Nugent did not get charged with a felony. He settled with the Feds for a misdemeanor Lacey Act violation. Whether he was threatened with a felony charge nobody is saying. But if I was Nugent, and I was threatened with a federal felony charge, I would be afraid -- very, very afraid. Nugent has some foundation when he says "I don't trust our court system."

The federal court system in the U.S. is a bad place to be these days. The idea that an American who shows up there is innocent until proven guilty in some cases appears to be an antiquated idea. Federal prosecutors these days are ruthless, and federal judges seem unwilling to reign them in. Just ask the late Sen. Ted Stevens. The judge in his corruption case castigated federal prosecutors again and again, but never really did anything as they led a Washington, D.C., jury down the path to conviction. Only later did it emerge that the prosecutors had lied and hidden evidence and, of course, nothing has happened to them as a result.

If Nugent took a plea to pay $10,000 -- chicken feed to him -- and avoid a felony charge, he was a wise man. But if he did all this, as he portrays it, to simply avoid fighting the Feds over a simple misdemeanor, then he's a coward. Because to claim that battle would have "bankrupted me, taken me away from my life support careers for God knows how long," etc. is just bullshit. There is no other word for it. 

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com. His views are his own.