Earlier today Ted Nugent lent his support to 13 Republican-authored hunting bills.
Nugent, the 1970s rocker behind such works as Stranglehold and Cat Scratch Fever, is the official spokesperson for Hunter Nation — a Kansas-based lobbying group that’s backing the so-called Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Package.
As his musical career has waned, Nugent has found a new calling as a conservative spokesperson, gun rights activist and peddler of COVID-19 misinformation.
“I’m here not representing any Ted Nugent opinions, I’m not that cocky,” Nugent said before sharing several opinions.
“The deer was made the perfect size for my arrow,” he said. “The beaver pelt is perfect for my grandchildren’s Christmas gift. Hunting, fishing and trapping is perfect. When they’re over-regulated people quit, people don’t participate and that’s what’s happening.”
The legislative package that Nugent and Hunter Nation are backing would, among other things, open up a sandhill crane hunting season, permit concealed carrying of a firearm without a license and require the DNR to eliminate three rules every time they add a new rule.
Other notable bills would consolidate the state’s turkey hunting seasons, require the DNR to create a biennial work plan for habitat management and provide a chance to hunt non-native bovids — cloven-hooved members of the cattle family.
Both the Sandhill Crane hunting legislation and concealed carry bill were written by Sen. Mary Felzkowski, a Republican from Irma. Felzkowski says that it’s time to remove the sandhill crane from the state’s protected species list.
“Over the years the sandhill crane has been an endangered species, and we’ve done a great job in the state of Wisconsin on protecting that and then bringing our numbers back where it’s no longer on the endangered species list. It’s time now to manage that resource, just as we do with all of our other waterfowl and birds,” Felzkowski said.
Nugent referred to the protected species as “ribeye in the sky.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a 2011 bill to open a sandhill crane hunting season died in committee. That’s the last time the issue was raised in the legislature.
“The second bill that I have is constitutional carry,” Felzkowski continued. “In the state of Wisconsin, we allow you to open carry. You can strap a 9mm pistol on your hip and walk down main street, but you can’t put a coat on.”
Felzkowski’s bill goes further than just concealed carry.
It would essentially eliminate a state-level prohibition against guns in police stations, prisons, and mental health facilities. It would also allow folks to bring a firearm into a wildlife refuge, and eliminate a law prohibiting folks from carrying a weapon while operating an all-terrain vehicle.
It would also eliminate a prohibition on carrying a firearm into a bar. Although drinking while armed would still be illegal.
According to the Journal Sentinel, in 2017 Felzkowski introduced a similar proposal — which was rejected by then-Governor Scott Walker.
“I think the law we have right now is a good law,” Walker said at the time.
When asked why a concealed carry bill was in a hunting package, Felzkowski largely dodged the question — arguing that hunters were prone to “gotcha” gun laws. She did not clarify what a “gotcha” gun law is.
“We are giving local control to individual businesses,” she said. “If they don’t want people concealed carrying into their business, they have the right to post against that.”
Nugent had a more concise take.
“I was born with constitutional carry,” he said. “It is a God-given right.”
Luke Hilgemann, Hunter Nation’s CEO, says that the group plans to push similar legislative packages in other states.
“Wisconsin is the beginning, it is not the end — we are taking this same type of reform package all across the country, because this lifestyle has been under attack unlike anything I’ve seen in my life,” he said.
Nick Milroy is a Democratic state Representative from South Range, and a member of the Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, the Department of Natural Resources’ Sporting Heritage Council and the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Committee on Sporting Heritage.
He says that the Republicans crafted their proposals without seeking input from Democratic lawmakers or Wisconsin sporting groups.
“The people who should be making recommendations for fish and wildlife policy are experts in the field,” Milroy tells WORT. “For the legislature to just draft bills out of the air without consulting any of the sportsman’s groups is a real slap in the face of our sporting heritage here in Wisconsin.”
Milroy says that Hunter Nation’s CEO — Luke Hilgemann — was previously caught up in an ethics scandal with former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder.
Says Milroy: “The person who runs (Hunter Nation) is a disgraced former staffer for Scott Suder who was caught up in a pay-to-play scandal where Scott Suder had put $500,000 into the state budget directed to this phony group called ‘United Sportsmen’ back in 2011 that was ran by the person who now runs Hunter Nation. And it was taxpayer money to go as payback for political favors for a right-wing extremist group.”
Hunter Nation has also played a pivotal role in the fight over Wisconsin’s wolf population.
This past winter, the group successfully sued the Department of Natural Resources over the Department’s plans to delay Wisconsin’s wolf hunt. Hunter Nation’s victory in that case kicked off a frantic, roughly three day hunt in February that ended with hunters killing 216 wolves — blowing past the state-imposed quota of 119.
The Wisconsin Examiner reports that the group is also backing this winter’s wolf hunt — and has challenged lawsuits brought by conservation groups that seek to stop the hunt.
Photos by Jonah Chester for WORT-FM