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John McCoy: No, poachers are not 'hunters,' nor should they be described that way

No one seemed to notice when, last April, a father and his son went to a black bear den and killed a hibernating sow and her two cubs.

The two men, identified as 41-year-old Andrew Renner and his 18-year-old son, Owen, were convicted for poaching the animals and were sentenced on Jan. 22. The sentencing still didn’t raise many people’s attention until authorities released the video that captured the entire illegal act in graphic detail.

The video, which quickly went viral, shows the Renners approaching the den on cross-country skis. It shows Owen Renner shouldering a rifle and killing the sow. When the cubs started bawling, Andrew Renner shot them and the two men dragged the animals out of the den.

They butchered the sow, which, as they found out, was wearing a tracking collar. They took the meat and left the cubs’ remains behind. Two days later, the video camera captured them returning to hide the cubs’ carcasses.

They didn’t know that their crimes had been recorded on a game camera put out by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service. As it turned out, the bears were part of a study being conducted on Esther Island in Prince William Sound.

The video gave prosecutors an open-and-shut case against the Renners, who hail from Wasilla, a town about 75 miles from the island. The men were convicted.

Andrew Renner was sentenced to jail and fined $9,000. He also had to forfeit equipment used in the crimes, which included a 22-foot Sea Sport ocean boat and trailer, a 2012 GMC Sierra pickup, two rifles, two handguns, two iPhones and two sets of backcountry skis.

His son, who was a juvenile at the time of the incident, got off with a 30-day suspended jail sentence and community service. Both men lost their hunting licenses.

Fine and dandy.

What has come since then, however, is anything but fine and dandy.

Authorities released some of the video they used to convict the poachers. The video, posted to YouTube by the Humane Society of the United States, went viral.

Bloggers and newspapers’ online editors grabbed the video and posted the footage to their websites as well. Some of them portrayed it accurately, i.e., poachers caught in the act of committing a wildlife crime.

Unfortunately, not everyone did. Some outlets described the Renners as “hunters,” as if the crimes the men committed were just part of the hunting process. Nothing could be farther from the case.

Shooting a hibernating animal isn’t hunting, it’s poaching. Hunting involves a sense of fair chase. The Renners didn’t engage in fair chase. They killed a sleeping bear, which is unethical; and they killed her cubs, which also is unethical and highly illegal.

And now, because of the Renners’ willingness to violate the law and the eagerness with which anti-hunting activists glommed onto an opportunity to cast hunters in an unfavorable light, the internet is ablaze with accounts of how “the hunters” did their dirty deed.

“The hunters stopped at a den on a remote Alaska island and peered in to find their slumbering target,” read an account in the Washington Post. Accounts on blogs, particularly those with an anti-hunting bent, are even more lurid and accusatory.

Thankfully, many media outlets correctly described the Renners as “poachers,” not “hunters.” Or at least, those whose writers know the difference did.

Writers ignorant of hunting, or perhaps biased against it, did not. And quite unfairly, hunting got a black eye that won’t soon fade.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

Funerals for Today September 17, 2019

Beemon, Michael - 11 a.m., Snyder Cemetery, Churchville.

Cart, Edith Fay - 11 a.m., Beal Cemetery, Leatherwood.

Dent, Frances M. - 1 p.m., Allen Funeral Home Chapel, Hurricane.

Hagy, Alfred - 1 p.m., Simon - Coleman Funeral Home, Richwood.

Rogers, Diana - 2 p.m., Dunbar Towers, Dunbar.

Winter, Janet - 6 p.m., Elizabeth Baptist Church, Bancroft.