By Aislinn Sarnacki
A Maine hunter featured on Yes on 1 ads in support of the bear referendum has been accused of using non-fair chase tactics while hunting ruffed grouse.
Joel Gibbs, 56, of Lowell, was charged with shooting a firearm from a motor vehicle on Oct. 17 in Masardis, a small town in Aroostook County, after game wardens allegedly witnessed Gibbs shoot at a ruffed grouse through the open window of a vehicle, according to Lt. Dan Scott of the Maine Warden Service.
Gibbs was recently featured as a “Maine bear hunter” in the pro-ban television and online advertisement entitled “Stop,” funded by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the group leading the Yes on 1 campaign. In the ad, Gibbs states, “I’ve hunted all my life, and this cruelty has no place in Maine.”
In Maine, shooting from a motor vehicle (or even having a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle) is a Class E crime, punishable by up to six months of imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.
Gibbs, however, denies shooting the grouse in an unsportsmanlike way.
“I didn’t shoot anything from my vehicle,” Gibbs said. “I wouldn’t believe a thing they say.”
The concept of “fair chase,” as defined by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is “the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.”
It’s a chief ethical concept considered in the creation of hunting rules and regulations throughout the United States.
“It’s something that we generally issue summonses for,” Scott said. “It’s a fair chase ethical issue and a safety issue. It’s dangerous, and it’s a fair chase issue for wildlife.”
A lifelong hunter, Gibbs himself referred to the concept of fair chase in an OpEd he wrote in support of the upcoming referendum, which was published by the BDN on July 16. In the editorial, Gibbs wrote that the use of bait, dogs and traps in bear hunting is “lazy” and “cruel.”
“Join me in helping restore fair chase to our bear hunt,” Gibbs wrote, “by voting yes on Question 1 in November.”
The Lowell resident was also featured in BDN story on Aug. 16, “ Battle for bears: science versus ethics,” as an example of a Maine hunter that has successfully harvested black bear without the use of bait, dogs or traps.
“As far as the wardens and biologists, I’d be a little bit skeptical to believe in anything they say right now,” Gibbs said Monday.
DIF&W wardens and biologists strongly oppose the referendum and have been featured in several No on 1 campaign advertisements, as well as in public debates.
“Obviously [shooting from a vehicle] is something that the No on 1 campaign would never condone,” James Cote, campaign manager for the No on 1 campaign, said. “We think it’s really unfortunate that someone who the Yes on 1 campaign has portrayed as a spokesperson for several months now, accusing traditional Maine hunters for being unethical and unfair, is now shown in the light of being given a summons for a hunting violation.”
“We expect that Mr. Gibbs will have his say if the state pursues the charge,” Katie Hansberry, campaign director for the Yes on 1 campaign, said. “Any dispute between Mr. Gibbs and the Warden Service has no relevance to Question 1 and the banning of bear baiting, trapping and hounding.”
Gibbs is scheduled to appear for his arraignment at District Court in Presque Isle in December.