MADISON – Musician and hunting advocate Ted Nugent appeared alongside Republican lawmakers in the Capitol on Wednesday to endorse a package of hunting and gun bills.
Nugent, who is the spokesperson for Hunter Nation, said Wisconsin should be managing wildlife differently and removing restrictions placed on hunting, fishing and trapping. He said he represented millions of sportsmen and women from across the country in his push for Wisconsin to adopt the package of bills.
“When you’ve got a landmine field of regulations, people are quitting. People are not pursuing (hunting),” he said. “And that precious wildlife resource goes from an asset — generating family recreation, generating revenues — it goes immediately into the liability column.”
Hunter Nation, a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group, has sued the Department of Natural Resources, forcing a February wolf hunt in the state that resulted in a kill of 218 wolves, 99 wolves above the state-licensed quota.
Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, the chair of the Senate committee on sporting heritage, small business and rural issues, said hunting regulations imposed by the Department of Natural Resources have gone too far.
“The regulation books used to be four or five pages long, and now the deer hunting regulation book is over 75 pages long. We’re trying to simplify things so that people understand the parameters they must be within,” he said. “Most people try hard to follow those regulations, and we’re trying to simplify them to make sure they can do that.”
Luke Hilgemann, CEO of Hunter Nation, said the group plans to introduce similar legislation in all 50 states and has heard from lawmakers in Canada.
“Hunters, anglers and trappers of Wisconsin and across the nation, we hear you. And we are responding to your concerns here today. Wisconsin is the beginning, it is not the end,” he said. “This lifestyle has been under attack, unlike anything that I’ve seen in my life.”
Additional members of the Legislature attended the press conference, nodding in agreement throughout the event, letting loose an “amen” in response to Nugent’s statement that Wisconsin is God’s country.
Republican Sen. Mary Felzkowski of Irma recalled hunting with her family as a child and the strong traditions her family built around the sport.
“We make it so hard for people to participate in the great outdoors, and that’s just wrong,” she said. “And in the last year with COVID we’ve seen how important that great outdoors is to many.”
The package of 13 bills ranges in topics from stocking more pheasants and brook trout, to simplifying turkey hunting seasons, to reducing Department of Natural Resources regulations for hunting, trapping and fishing. The bills also aim to establish a season for hunting sandhill cranes and to allow Wisconsinites to carry concealed firearms without licenses.
Republican lawmakers who introduced the bills earlier this month said the measures are meant to address policies Gov. Tony Evers and the DNR haven’t listened to from outdoorsmen and women.
Senate Majority Leader Devin Le Mahieu of Oostburg said hunting generates $4 billion in economic activity a year, supports 34,000 jobs and accounts for $1 billion in salaries and wages. About 895,000 people hunt each year and spend an average of $2,800.
“It is a part of the fabric of our state,” Le Mahieu said. “We’re standing for our hunters, fishermen, and anglers in all types of sportsmen in the state of Wisconsin. We remain committed to protecting their rights here and preserving them going forward.”
The proposal to allow a hunting season for sandhill cranes has become controversial, with some conservationists calling for the bird to remain protected in Wisconsin, while others advocate for hunting the birds. Nugent went as far as recommending butter and garlic for cooking up the bird.
“They’re ribeyes in the sky,” he said. “We want a balanced, healthy thriving population of sandhill cranes in the asset column, not in the liability column.”
Nugent took time to address the constitutional carry portion of the package of bills and said he was born with the right to carry a gun.
“I have a right to keep and bear arms on the ground in the United States of America, it’s a God-given right,” he said. “This Second Amendment consideration is on par with science-based hunting regulations to allow us to perform our conservation responsibilities, as well as our self-defense responsibilities.”
No Democratic lawmakers appeared at the press conference and shared criticisms of both the package of bills and the fact that Nugent was invited to speak.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Smith of Brunswick, who sits on the Sporting Heritage Committee, called the press conference a “stunt.”
“It’s proof these bills are all for political theater and do nothing to help sportsmen and preserve Wisconsin’s hunting heritage,” he said.
Ted Nugent a controversial figure
Democrats took issue with Nugent being at the press conference, because of his controversial past.
Nugent, whose career in rock ‘n’ roll took off in the 1970s, has lately become better known for his outspoken conservative politics and occasional offensive statements.
He told President Barack Obama to “suck on my machine gun” in 2012, and talked about shooting Democratic lawmakers at a 2015 National Rifle Association meeting. He’s posted racist and anti-Semitic comments on his social media pages, and in 2014, called Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”
In a March 2016 Facebook post, he shared a bogus photograph that included the n-word slur and a stereotypical depiction of African Americans.
The 72-year-old musician has also shared controversial opinions on COVID-19, calling it a “leftist scam” and claimed the virus was “not a real pandemic.” He later tested positive for COVID, and said the sickness was so bad he thought he was dying, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Nugent, whose music catalog includes a song titled “Jailbait,” has also sparked conversations about his like for teenage girls, and whether he dated underage women when he was younger.
In 1998, Nugent claimed during an episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music” he had an “addiction” to underage girls and had dated a 17-year-old girl when he was 30, according to a Snopes report. The relationship took place in Hawaii, where at the time it was not illegal, but the girl would have been considered underage in several other states.
In the VH1 interview, Nugent claimed to have asked the girl’s parents to sign papers to make him her legal guardian so they could get married, though records of the legal guardianship and marriage are not readily available.
Nugent has also been charged with several hunting violations over the years, including 11 deer hunting violations in California in 2010 and pleading guilty in 2012 to transporting a black bear he illegally killed in Alaska.
“It’s no wonder Republicans picked Ted Nugent as their spokesperson on this issue. Nugent’s track record for following the law while hunting is akin to having an election investigator who knows nothing about elections,” Smith said. “It’s too bad Republicans are using hunters, anglers and trappers as pawns in their partisan games instead of taking meaningful action on CWD, fixing the Conservation Congress and approving the appointments to the DNR Board.”
Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, also expressed concern over the choice to invite Nugent into the capitol.
“If you want to have serious discussions about sporting freedoms, is Ted Nugent really the guy to help you get that done? One of my colleagues said they were standing for our hunters, fishermen, and anglers in the state. What about standing for decency? Nugent is a creepy teenage-girl dating, n-word tossing individual, with a track record of previous hunting violations,” she said in a statement. “Yet, this is the Republican hero on hunting? Frankly, they did a disservice to the very constituents they said they were trying to help.”
Laura Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.