Casts and Blasts from the Governor’s Turkey Hunt

Gov. Sam Brownback looks at one of two toms he shot, while only having one permit. Danny Armstrong is giving directions to the area to a game warden, after Brownback self reported the unintentional problem.

A long weekend that usually holds some 20 hour days, and an annual chance to see some good friends, held a bit more excitement this year. No doubt Gov. Sam Brownback’s unintentionally shooting two turkeys while having only one permit, then intentionally  self reporting the inciden,t will be one of  the most memorable events of the 27th Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado.

All political views aside, it’s hard for anyone to not admire the fact that Brownback took responsibility for his actions even though he was basically following the directions of guide Danny Armstrong, who mistook one turkey for another. He made no excuses, and asked for no special treatment.

The first shot wasn’t ideal, as Brownback was told to shoot a mature tom as it feeding along in front of the blind with its head down. Normally birds are standing, with their head and neck stretched up when the shots are taken. A brief mechanical problem prevented a quick follow-up shot afte the bird rolled, regained its feet and trotted off at an angle that made it tough for the left-handed shooting Brownback to shoot again.

Armstrong hadn’t seen the bird turn to the west and thought it was headed to a meadow to the south, where he had Brownback take a shot at a bird walking away from the hunting blind. That three or four jakes were strutting around that dead bird were an early indication a different bird had been shot.

Armstrong went looking for the original bird after he and Brownback had gone to the dead jake. He found the tom about 30 yards from where it was shot, tangled in a woven wire fence.

The tom turkey shot seconds later by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback’s first question was if it was legal to go purchase a second permit for the bird. Armstrong and I told him permits aren’t valid until the next day. It also would have been illegal for Armstrong or me to tag the bird since we hadn’t shot it.

Brownback then said he’d just have to pay the fine for a ticket. He used his cell phone to call Seth Turner, the state park manager at El Dorado State Park. Turner’s job also qualifies him to enforce wildlife law violations, though he tried repeatedly to contact other agency law enforcement officials.

At the scene of the hunt, Brownback volunteered that it would reflect badly on everyone if he wasn’t issued a citation.

As Turner said at the time, and Kevin Jones, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement chief later confirmed, I know of at least four instances when such unintentional cases of game being shot over the bag limit were not issued tickets by game wardens.

Keeping a good sense of humor, Brownback said, “I’m laying this off on Robin (Jennison). He’s always trying to get more money out of me for Wildlife and Parks. He’s getting some, and it’s my money.” Jennison is Wildlife and Parks secretary.

Rather than hold the story for Sunday’s outdoors page, I decided it was important to get the facts public as soon as possible rather than let the rumor mill spin things in inaccurate directions.

News spread fast. By 4 a.m. the next morning one hunter reported seeing it on the bottom of the screen on the Weather Channel. About an hour later another saw it in a similar way on CNN.

By 9:04 a.m. that Saturday morning I got a call that I’d “upset a bunch of game wardens” because I referred to Turner as a game warden as well as a state park manager. Technically, Turner is also a park ranger, meaning he can enforce state park regulations and wildlife regulations.

Several years ago The Eagle decided to refer to those who are enforcing wildlife laws and regulations as game wardens so the public would instantly recognize their duties.