One of the first major blows to the industry and hunting as a whole, involved a southern newcomer, Don Lewis. Lewis was on his way to being a hunting legend as he was consistently being featured in hunting magazines with trophy deer and monster elk, all killed with a bow. He not only never ate an archery tag, but he happened to fill his tags with nothing but Boone & Crocket caliber animals. His success was insane. Too insane.
However, with his ambitious bid for hunting fame from 1983-1991, nobody stopped to wonder how an Alabama bow hunter could instantly become one of the most successful trophy mule deer and elk hunters in the country. How could he always be outhunting the best western hunters who scouted their areas year round? Poaching was how he was doing it.
On what should have been just another fall hunting day, someone had tipped the authorities that Lewis was chasing elk in Yellowstone National Park which was obviously closed to hunting. Upon checking his truck, a game officer noticed a VHS video tape under Lewis’ seat. On that tape was actual footage of Lewis poaching animals inside the park and other places.
He was ignoring hunting season dates, shooting tame animals in parks, and he was also exceeding bag limits. As if being a national hunting celebrity wasn’t reason enough to call attention to himself, he was also the very first poacher to be convicted with animal DNA evidence. Utah is where that happened.
Although there would be more high profile cases of greed gone bad, Don Lewis did more damage than anyone could ever imagine as tales of his crimes reached national news programs and newspapers. The country also took notice as the popular and growing hunting industry began to manifest itself into the entire fabric of society. The Lewis ordeal was hugely damaging.
Another negative feature of this time period were the hunting video makers. They were constantly trying to outdo each other with the ‘next big thing.’ Looking back, most videos were over the top and many videos sure were suspicious looking. For example, many videos featured “fair chase” deer hunts that looked too much like they were taking place in small pens and enclosures. A very prominent video guy gained fame for being abnormally successful at shooting trophy whitetail bucks while hunting on the ground with a bow. He is still on TV today and I bet he wished some of those old videos would disappear forever. Not only was in obvious he was shooting deer behind fences, but some of the bucks appeared to be drugged as they lazily stumbled around with cloudy eyes and made no attempt to be aware of their surroundings or of any possible imposing danger. It was embarrassing.
For questions or comments, Chad Dolbeare can be contacted at [email protected]