Author’s prefatory note: “Justice at Last!” is the eleventh and final story of Chapter 13 from BAREBOW! On the morning of August 9, 1993, BC Wildlife confiscated my geometric full-curl Stone ram and charged me with shooting a sub-legal one. Seventeen months later, a judge acquitted me of the charge—yet ordered forfeiture of my trophy to the Crown. Thus began a series of truly unbelievable appeals, hearings, and further court appearances that stretched out over nearly six years. Indeed, two hearings took place in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The drama, all in all, was good enough to serve as the basis for a movie! To read and understand the entire convoluted legal saga, the reader is urged to seek out the print book, or to download The BAREBOW! Sheep Book from Amazon’s Kindle Bookstore.
Justice sometimes has a way of smiling on you when you least expect it—and at a time long after you have given up all hope of finding any. Such was the case one evening in April of 2004 when I received a phone call from my wife. She and I had left Canada in July of 1999 and moved down to my hometown of Seattle. Karen was phoning me from our new home with an electrifying message. I was in Idaho at the time, tending to some family business, and the subject of her startling news could not have been further from my mind.
“Honey!” she said, with great excitement in her voice. “You won’t believe it! Grab a piece of paper and write down this number I’ll give you. I just took a call from a fellow in Prince George, BC, who says your Stone ram is going to be auctioned off tomorrow, and he wants to know if you want him to buy it for you! His name is Harder—Ed Harder. Do you know him?”
I stood there for a few seconds in stunned silence, trying to put it all together in my mind. “I sure do know him, Sweetheart! He’s the taxidermist in Prince George to whom I gave several years ago some photos of my ram, as well as the plug ID Number, which BC Wildlife had stamped on the rear surface of one horn way back on August 9, 1993, the day they confiscated my trophy from me.”
Karen continued, “Well, you’d better call him back right away and tell him what you want him to do. He’s eager to hear from you.” I quickly wrote down the phone number, thanked her for the call, and hung up to ponder how all this must have come about.
During my Appeal Hearing before Deputy Director of Wildlife, Bill Munro (in December of 1995), I presented him with a Memorandum (signed by his boss, Ray Halladay), on the subject of the Yukon jigs that were used throughout the Province to judge the legality of sheep horns. The basic thrust of the memo had been to put Branch Conservation Officers on notice that the jigs were not uniform or consistent, and that they could yield measurements as much as eight millimeters at variance with one another when applied to the same set of horns. The reader may be interested to learn that I had obtained a copy of that memo from a BC Wildlife biologist who had recently resigned his position in one of the District Offices located in the southeastern part of the Province.
This was not Dr. David Hatler, who had provided his testimony as an expert witness for me on four separate occasions in the 1994 to 1996 time frame. It was a different biologist, one who had recently quit his government job with the Division of Wildlife, precisely because he had become utterly disgusted at how many super-environmentalist, anti-hunting types seemed to be gaining positions of influence and authority within the Branch. Having heard about my thinhorn sheep case, he called me up one day and asked me to send him some pictures of my confiscated ram. Once he had received those, he phoned back to say he thought he could provide me with an “intra-office” memo that might prove helpful to my cause.
He also, at that time, gave me one priceless piece of information I was never to forget. He explained that every year BC Wildlife confiscates a large number of sheep horns from unlucky hunters like myself, and then—at some point down the road—puts them up for public auction. He said they don’t give any publicity to the sales, but simply send out notices to the various taxidermists and horn-carvers around the Province. “Most of the auctions,” he added, “take place in Prince George because it’s so centrally located.”
His next sentence was the one that really got my attention. “There’s nothing in the law, Dennis, which says you can’t attend one of those auctions and buy back your own cape and horns. It’s perfectly legal, but the Branch doesn’t want the public to know about it.”
“The cape, too?” I asked in amazement.
“Sure! They’re all auctioned off, but separately from the horns. Some buyers want one; some buyers only want the other. Just keep this in mind as a last-resort kind of thing—if you aren’t successful with the appeals process you’re going through.”
I thanked the friendly wildlife biologist, hung up, and stood there for awhile, thunderstruck. What an incredible thing, I thought to myself! I vowed to tuck the idea away in the back of my mind—if, indeed, worst should come to worst.
Seven months after I finally abandoned my long legal battle to regain possession of my trophy Stone ram, I left Vancouver in July of 1999 to return to my hometown of Seattle—bringing with me my Canadian bride of 10 years. Today, as I write these words, we are presently in the nineteenth year of our honeymoon. I had not grown tired of living in Canada, but my elderly mother was needing more TLC than I could administer from Vancouver, and there were other family matters that made the move advisable. Quite frankly, when we left British Columbia to take up residence south of the border, I felt the chances were slim, indeed, that BC Wildlife would ever decide to put my ram’s horns and cape up for auction. I figured I’d been such a thorn in their side for so long that—once my last legal Appeal had been rejected—they had undoubtedly cut my horns up into little pieces.
Before leaving the Province for good, however, I had at least taken the precautionary step of paying a visit to the principal taxidermist in Prince George. His name was Ed Harder, and Burntwood Taxidermy was the name of his studio. I recounted for him the sad saga of my Stone ram’s full-curl confiscation, and left some pictures with him (along with the plug number) “just in case,” as the saying goes. I never really did believe I would hear from him again.
By the time Justice, at long last, reckoned it was time to pull her chin up off her chest, another five years (less three months) had passed. Yes, BC Wildlife had waited for nearly five years after my departure from Canada before running the risk of offering up my ram at a public auction. They had been patient. Most fortunately, the horns had not been pre-cut into pieces for the carvers. The Wildlife Branch had made a serious miscalculation. It was not so much that they had underestimated me, or my resolve to leave no “stone” unturned, but they had also underestimated the numbers of disenchanted people they were creating within their own ranks—due to their unwise sheep management policies, and the contemptuous treatment they were all too often affording the very citizens who were paying their salaries. It was one of those former, “in-house” rebels that had given me the key that would one day eventually open up the vaults of heaven and reunite me with my trophy ram.
When I returned Ed Harder’s call that April evening in 2004, he was delighted to hear from me. He assured me that earlier in the day he’d visited the site of the morrow’s auction and had made positive identification of my horns and cape. Needless to say, I was somewhere the other side of ecstatic. Ed described the horns as looking very dried out, and not appearing to have come from a freezer. The cape, to the contrary, had seemed not-quite-fully-thawed-out at the time of his inspection.
I thanked Ed for his phone call and instructed him to pay whatever was needed to buy both items. I also gave him my assurance I would pay him for a full head-and-shoulder mount of the ram, once he owned them outright. I believe that the next day the horns auctioned off to him for $500, and the cape—if memory serves—for $1,200. When I was notified in the fall of 2004 that the Stone sheep mount was finished, I had just completed my 29-species North American Super Slam, and Ed’s willingness to sell the mount he now owned back to its original owner was truly the frosting on my cape! (On my Stone’s cape!) I think, all in all, the funds I sent him for the purchase came to about $2,700. That covered all his costs of “materials” and labor, and allowed for a bit of true, bottom-line profit. A perfect business deal! He went ahead and applied for the Provincial Export Permit, and before November came to an end the UPS delivery man was knocking on my door, asking for a signature. Aside from the day of our marriage when I signed the wedding certificate with Karen, I don’t believe I’ve ever written out my John Henry with so much joy in my heart!
As I sit here tonight in my Grizzly Den, finishing up this story and this Chapter of the book, all I have to do to see my trophy Stone ram is to swivel my head a quarter of a turn. He rests there on the wall, looking down at me—proud, majestic, and serene. Little does he know what I went through so that we could be reunited. Ed Harder and his wife did a magnificent job of rehabilitating his horns and mounting him. Amazingly—despite having spent 11 years in cold storage—the cape was rehydrated perfectly and came back from the tannery in beautiful condition!
I had had Doug Clinkenbeard officially measure my ram’s horns for the Pope and Young Records Book on the first morning of my trial in the Smithers Courthouse. Later on, once I was acquitted of the charge brought against me, I submitted the completed scoring form to the Club—along with my photos and Fair Chase Affidavit. I also enclosed with the submission a copy of the judge’s Reasons for Judgment. The Pope and Young Records Committee took the matter under advisement, and eventually I received their decision to not accept my entry—until or unless, one day, I regained possession of the horns. I understood their reasons and had no problem with the decision.
By late November of 2004, however, I suddenly found myself in permanent legal possession of my trophy Stone, so I called up the Records Chairman, Glenn Hisey, and told him the good news.
“In fact, Glenn,” I said, “I’m sitting here in my study, looking up at him on the wall, as we speak! The taxidermist in Prince George did a fantastic job on this head-and-shoulder mount—considering that the cape spent 11 years in a freezer.”
“Can you send me some pictures of it, along with any paperwork you have showing that you got it into the country legally?” Glenn asked.
“Will a copy of the British Columbia Export Permit work for you?”
“That should do it,” Glenn replied.
I hung up the phone with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. I now knew that all four of my rams making up the North American Grand Slam of Wild Sheep would someday hang together on my wall, and were going to end up listed in the Pope and Young Records. The Grand Slam Club, which records and archives all sheep slams taken legally and under the rules of Fair Chase, had already long since (back in December of 1999) accepted my Stone ram as part of Archery Grand Slam #12.
Though it took her more than 11 years, Justice did, indeed, remove her blindfold and finally gaze upon me with warm and smiling eyes! My faith was restored, and—finally—all seemed right with the world.
Editor’s note: This article is the twenty-eighth of the BAREBOW! Chronicles, a series of shortened stories from accomplished hunter and author Dennis Dunn’s award-winning book, BAREBOW! An Archer’s Fair-Chase Taking of North America’s Big-Game 29. Dunn was the first to harvest each of the 29 traditionally recognized native North American big game species barebow: using only “a bow, a string, an arrow—no trigger, no peep sights, no pins—just fingers, guts, and instinct.” Each of the narratives will cover the (not always successful, but certainly educational and entertaining) pursuit of one of the 29 animals. One new adventure will be published every two weeks—join us on the hunt! You can learn more about the work and purchase a copy on Dunn’s site here. Read the twenty-seventh Chronicle here.
Top image courtesy Dennis Dunn.