Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Nugent deer poaching case file: What it says, and what it doesn't say

The news accounts last week of the Ted Nugent deer poaching case left many hunters wanting more information. Because I live within an hour of where the case was prosecuted, I decided to go check out the case file myself.

In case you missed it, news broke last week that Nugent had pleaded no contest to two charges stemming from a TV show he did about hunting blacktail deer here in Northern California. What got the most attention was the accusations that he'd killed a spike buck (neither antler forked), and that he'd hunted over bait. Although both of those things are entirely consistent with Nugent's style of hunting, neither is legal here in California. Read more...
In discussions here on my own blog, and on others as well (Hog Blog, Thinking Hunter and Othmar Vohringer), some of the biggest questions I had were these: Would Ted Nugent knowingly televise a hunt if he knew he'd done something illegal in it? While hunters are responsible for learning the laws of the lands where they hunt, did this case also point to a failure of Nugent's California guides to let him know he was doing something wrong? And what happens to a guide who participates in an illegal hunt?

My take at the time was that Nugent would not knowingly put an illegal hunt on television. He's pretty wacky, but he couldn't possibly be that stupid. Could he? I also thought any guide who'd let an illegal hunt happen on his watch should have his guide license revoked.

So what did I learn from the case file? First, it does not appear that either of the men working with Nugent on the hunt is or was a licensed guide. Neither of them is on the state's list of licensed guides. But one of them - Mitch Moore (whom Nuge referred to on the show as "camera dude") - is a taxidermist and I'm pretty sure there isn't a taxidermist in this state who doesn't know that a buck has to have at least three points to be legal.

Here's the part of the case file, though, that really caught my eye. In the investigation summary by Lt. John D. Laughlin (himself a lifelong hunter), he describes Nugent's "Spirit of the Wild" episode featuring his blacktail hunts:

Generally, when hunters take pictures or video of game they have taken, they take some pains to display the antler size or characteristics; in other video I have seen of Mr. Nugent on his television show, he almost always follows this general pattern. With respect to the spike buck on the video however, after the deer is dead, Mr. Nugent approaches the buck, partially conceals the upper portion of the antler and describes it, in part, as a forked horn buck; unlike the other two deer shown being taken on the 02/09/10 television show there is no close up of the spike buck's head. (Click on the image to see the actual excerpt.)

I cannot for the life of me find this video on the Internet, which seems bizarre. But I did find this screen shot of the show from a raging debate about the show on the Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors forum:

Yeah, it looks like a spike buck, but the shot is so grainy you can't really tell. Is that grass in the background, or a fork in one of the antlers?

Or does it matter, given the behavior the warden describes? Not showing the full antlers seems pretty odd - like Nugent knows he's got something to hide, which seems to address that big question I had: Would Nugent knowingly put an illegal hunt on TV?

Yet Nugent was not convicted on the spike buck charge. He pleaded no contest - which means, "I'm not fighting it, but nor am I admitting guilt" - to charges of baiting ($1,225 fine) and failing to follow the California rule that you have to find some sort of officer to countersign your deer tag after killing a deer ($525 fine).

"Camera dude" was convicted of and fined $700 for unlawful possession of animal part(s) taken in violation of the Fish and Game Code (not sure exactly what, but the search warrant evidence inventory from his house does include "6 x 8 deer antlers"). Ross Patterson, the guy whose family property they hunted, was nailed on the baiting charge too, getting hit with a $1,225 fine.

The baiting violations, for what it's worth, appeared to be pretty clear. "The video on the 02/09/2010 television show depicts deer licking the dirt, which deer do not normally do," Lt. Laughlin wrote in his investigation summary. He also noted that Nugent's show is sponsored by C'Mere Deer, a product that bills itself as a "revolutionary deer attractant."

It's worth noting that C'Mere Deer's own website says "some states' game laws may prohibit the use of an attractant. We encourage each individual to know their local and state game laws to ensure if it is legal to use C'Mere Deer products where he or she desires to hunt or apply it."

But what about the spike charge? Why no conviction there? That's one of the things that really riles up hunters here because we can easily hunt for days without seeing a legal buck. The idea that we have to pass on spikes, and that maybe Nugent didn't, really grates on our nerves.

The problem is that the case was resolved with a plea bargain - it did not go to trial. Does that mean the state's case on the spike buck charge wasn't strong enough? Or was the state eager to resolve the case at minimal expense, even if it could've gotten a conviction on the spike buck charge?

We may never know the answers.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Josh said...

Great update, and I'm sorry you had to go through all of that for us.

As for the licensed guide thing, I'd like to let folks know that any person in California guiding any outdoor activity must be a licensed guide. As a river guide for natural history tours, I had a license, even though all I was doing was showing folks otters, basic paddling, birds, and plants.

R. Gabe Davis said...

For what it is worth......
I am Environmental specialist in a different state and take people to court regularly over breaking environmental regulations. I have found (surprisingly) that video evidence is much weaker than an officer actually witnessing the infraction (when and where can be argued since the officer didn't make the video). Maybe the officails saw they could cut a deal and not risk losing a high profile case where they only had video evidence that could have been thrown out by a judge since it was a production which is much different then a security camera or a squad car camera. I don't know the details but thought the nature of the evidence may be the problem. Your pal the Envirocapitalist.

SimplyOutdoors said...


I realize that he was not convicted on the spike buck charge, but, if I take this officer at his word, and if he did not show the head of the spike,and made an effort to conceal the spike buck's antler, that is pretty damning evidence.

I realize I haven't seen the video, but I tend to believe the officer's words, and it truly disturbs me.

Ted, though a tad over-the-top at times, is still a big time advocate for hunting and hunters alike, and this does not help our cause whatsoever.

This is such a black eye for us all, and I truly wish, as outspoken as he usually is, that he would come out publicly with some sort of statement other than the watered down blurb he released.

It makes me sad - and pisses me off.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Josh, no suffering at all. I hadn't acted like a reporter since 2002. It was kinda fun.

Gabe, I wish I could find out what happened with this case, but that may be tough.

Simply, there are parts of Uncle Ted I appreciate, but I'm pretty disappointed in this too.

hooter said...

If we, everyone else, were to get caught doing these crimes ,it would be a little different. I like Nuge. I like his politiacl stance( most of the time ) and I like his support of our hunting and shooting rights. However, because you are on TV and play rock and roll, doesn't put you above the law.I'll have some changed feelings about his next appearence.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Thanks for making the effort, you give bloggers a good name.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hooter, I'm kinda in the same shoes. Sometimes Nugent is way too out-there for me, but I respect his willingness to take extreme positions, which is important in public debate. This case is definitely casting him in a different light for me.

SBW, thanks! Just doing what I used to do for a living. :-)

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Funnily enough me too. Bigging Up the deserving.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

Lt. Laughlin wrote in his report that "deer do not lick dirt". I disagree. I just filmed a buck near Tehachapi CA who spent 10 minuted licking a dirt mound that had no cow or deer minerals around it. I've watched other deer lick granite outcroppings, in the San Bernardnio Mtns. In the Kaibab NF in AZ you can regularly see deer standing in the middle of the highway licking the divider stripe. Not sure what is attracting them, some say it's the salt in the road or something they like in the paint.

Not sure if Ted and crew used C'mere Deer since I wasn't there but to say deer don't lick dirt or other naturally occurring substances is flat out wrong.

As far as Ted and the spike, it's really hard to tell on that right antler from the grainy screen capture. Several on our forum lead a lynch mob for Ted's head over that slim proof and I caught a lot of grief over asking them to hold their water until the investigation was over.

steveo_uk said...

i used to watch ted's show with a passion , the whole issue has spoiled my enjoyment of it. I just cant bring my self to watch it now. I think the thing that has upset me over the whole issue is that it appears he did it intentionally and to me that just gives amunition to the anti-hunting lobby.