Reporter’s Notebook: On Venison, Ted Nugent, ‘Fair Chase’ and the Legislative Process
Meetings of the Texas House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee don’t usually gin up a lot of media attention. But Wednesday was no normal day.
Television cameras and reporters lined the back wall, eager to record the arrival of one of Texas’ more controversial figures. There was a certain fever in the room when Ted Nugent, donning his trademark camouflage cowboy hat, showed up.
Nugent, also known as The Nuge, The Motor City Madman or, simply Uncle Ted, is a rockstar, author, reality-television personality and storied bow hunter. His conservatism and pro-gun stances have earned him almost as much attention as his unpredictable behavior. Lately, he’s been in the spotlight for an apparent habit of making veiled threats against President Obama. Something that earned him intense criticism and at least one visit from the secret service.
But Nugent wasn’t at the capitol Wednesday to talk national politics. He was there to talk hunting, and people were ready for a show.
First lesson: It turns out not even The Nuge can speed up the coma-inducing pace of a committee meeting. It took three hours of testimony on related bills before Nugent was called to the lectern. By that time, most of the media had packed up and left.
For those who managed to stick around, Uncle Ted did not disappoint.
“I’m celebrating my 64th hunting season clean and sober,” Nugent said. “Because I get high on venison, the mystical flight of the arrow, and the fair chase of getting up early, using the wind, using the sun and trying to out-maneuver these incredible majestic beasts.”
The notion of “fair chase” is a cornerstone of the debate over HB 2433, by Rep.John Davis, R-Houston.
Currently, breeder deer (deer that are raised by breeders for hunting) can be released 10 days before the deer hunting season begins. The deer are often bought by private ranch owners and trophy hunting outfits and released into high fenced properties.
Davis believes 10 days isn’t long enough. His bill would require that breeder deer be released no later than 30 days before hunting season begins in 2014. The time period would be lengthened further to 60 days by the year 2016, according to the bill.
A short, 10-day waiting period, Davis said, doesn’t allow deer to acclimate to the wild before being hunted, which diminishes the sporting aspect of deer hunting and the fair chase. It creates the perception of canned hunting, he added.
“They just release (the deer) and in 10 days they are shot. I said, ‘Hell, they can’t even find where the bathrooms are in that time,'” Davis said. “They need time to become wild again, if they are indeed wildlife. I just don’t know that ten days allows for that.”
But there was a twist. After touting the need for sportsmanship and fair chase, Davis admitted that the last deer he shot was a genetically-inferior spike that he gunned down from inside a truck while the deer was eating at a feeder.
“I probably cheated on mine,” Davis said. Many in the crowd gasped at the revelation.
Two veterinarians testified in favor of the bill. Both said drugs, like antibiotics commonly administered to breeder deer, could still be present in deer meat after just ten days.
Bill Eikenhorst, a veterinarian representing the Quality Deer Management Association, said deer need more time to mature before being hunted. He also relayed a bit of his hunting philosophy.
“I will share with you what I define as my six M’s of true hunting,” Eikenhorst said. “Mystery, magic, majesty, meat, and yes money … and the sixth M is maturity.”
While he’s best known as a rock n’ roller (“Cat Scratch Fever“, “Stranglehold”), Nugent has also authored several books including God, Guns and Rock ‘n’ Roll, Kill It and Grill It and Ted, White & Blue: The Nugent Manifesto. He also wrote two collections of “kill stories” from his bow hunts, Blood Trails and Blood Trails II. And when he finally sat to testify against the bill, Nugent couldn’t help but describe the debate as part of larger, national divide.
He said the proposed waiting period of “fair chase” has to do with more than just hunting, issues like personal freedom, private property rights and the individual interpretation of a fair chase, among others.
“There is a pulse of numb-nuts in this country that would ban this commission, ban hunting, ban low fence, ban high fence, ban feeders, ban crossbows, ban muzzle loaders. They would ban it all under the scam of what they may perceive to be as fair chase.”
Nugent briefly ventured into other territory, regaling the room with anecdotes from the his time as a rockstar in the 1960s and 70s.
Back then, he said, not everyone cared for his brand of being American. Musicians used to condemn him for “killing bambi but not snorting their drugs,” and Jimi Hendrix laughed at him for toting a six shooter.
“See, Jimi got high, Jimi’s dead. I went hunting and I’m still Ted,” Nugent said.
Nugent said he would like the chance to debate the merits of the bill one-on-one with Rep. Davis, but “that would be like a canned hunt.”
The bill is still pending in committee, according to the Texas Legislature website.