The “Gentry Effect” Could Have Positive Ramifications

By now it’s been a few days since most of us have first learned of the incident involving Troy Gentry and the shooting of “Cubby.”   While Gentry’s legal team has worked hard to put a positive spin on the negative news trying to mitigate the bad press…one indisputable fact remains.   What Gentry did in rural Sandstone, Minnesota shooting a tame bear in a penned area a few acres in size is akin to fishing for fish-farm trout out of a cattle tank.   In each case the outcome might be called hunting or fishing, but the behavior is hardly sporting by anyone’s stretch of the imagination.

Let’s face it…Gentry was perfectly within his right to go on a “canned” hunt and shoot a game farm animal.   It happens all the time in many different areas of the country.   But you should know that this type of hunting is coming under greater scrutiny all the time.   As you can imagine most of the non-hunting world fails to see the sportsmanship in going on such a hunt.   Yet, some of the biggest critics of game farm hunting are from within the hunting community itself.   Hunting animals within a confined space — no matter how big the pen may be — just somehow dilutes the overall allure of chasing game without boundaries.   It’s part of where fair chase comes from.

Apparently what Gentry did was hunt an area roughly the size of the playing field found inside a domed football stadium.   And if that wasn’t bad enough, he hunted an animal that had a long history of not fearing people.   The animal was said to be essentially tame.   Put all these factors together and you have despicable scenario.   One that I dare say 99 percent of the hunters out there would not care to find themselves involved in.

Now as I understand it nothing I’ve described so far is really illegal — un-ethical, many would argue — but not criminal.   Where Gentry really went wrong was tagging the bear and holding it out to the public as if it were a wild kill.   Now here’s where things have the potential to really become unfair.   Once an animal is tagged and registered with the state (as wild) who’s going to stop the so-called hunter from taking it a step further and register the kill as a trophy?   Not suggesting that’s what Gentry did in this case…but why wouldn’t he have done that or at least considered it?   From all accounts Cubby was an unusually large black bear.   I bet the skull would have scored nicely in the record books, too!

Do you see the slippery slope here?   Do you want your trophy animals taken in the wild to compete against critters harvested from game farms that were registered with a few “white lies?”   What can it all hurt?   The hunter has to live with the knowledge they didn’t accomplish the feat fairly…why should any more need to be done?   Well, for one to keep the integrity of our record systems intact.   You might think that what Gentry did could not possibly affect you…but that might be a false assumption.   If Gentry is capable of being dishonest with the state game department why not to everyone else he might deal with regarding the bear?   The point is where do the lies stop…and at what cost to the reputation of the hunting heritage must we all endure?

From what I have read it sounds as if Gentry prides himself on his actions and accomplishments as a hunter.   And that’s just great…for most of us law-abiding hunters we do the same.   Most of us act responsibly and appropriately because we know eventually our behavior will be judged by our peers.   When I hike out to the woods my entire behavior is dictated by attempting to live up to the intense scrutiny of my peers.   I believe it was Aldo Leopold who once wrote that hunting is a unique sport because we don’t have a gallery of on-lookers watching our every actions while in the field.   We must therefore conduct our actions as if hiding behind a tree might be a game warden scrutinizing our sporting behavior.

So, should we make a big thing out of this Gentry incident?   Hell yes!   Irrespective of how the criminal case eventually plays out he is responsible in the first place for putting himself in that situation.   And when you’re a big-time personality where all of your actions are more highly scrutinized by the public you have an extra incentive to keep your nose clean, so to speak.

Indeed, Troy Gentry should be the new “whipping boy” within our hunting and fishing ranks held out to the public as a bad example…a rotten egg within our proverbial sportsman basket.   If as a sporting community we don’t castigate him for his behavior and call it out for what it is…then by virtue of not commenting we appear more accepting of the poor choices that he has made.

When folks “screw up” as outdoorsmen it sometimes takes a long time for people to forget.   I’m sorry to say there are several sportsmen from within my very own hunting region who have displayed poor sportsmanship or illegal behavior in the past…and in my mind I will forever associate that behavior with that person.   Some might not call that fair because people can make mistakes and subsequently modify their behavior.   I understand that.   But it should also be the fear that you will forever live with a reputation earned through your actions that keeps your nose clean in the first place.   If we all use what happened to Gentry as a an example of what we would not want to happen to ourselves…this could be a very positive happening within our sport.   Call it the “Gentry Effect.”

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.