On Sept. 1, when Minnesota’s 3,400 legal bear hunters were in the state’s North Woods on the first day of their season, Brett James Stimac was hunkered near a Red Lake Indian Reservation dump, a compound bow in his hand, according to charges filed last week by the U.S. attorney in the Twin Cities.
Whether Stimac, 40, of Brainerd, had scouted bears that frequented the dump and was aware a 700-pound bruin was among them, or whether he happened upon the brute by chance, isn’t known.
What is known is that Stimac, a felon with a long history of wildlife and other offenses, would later post online a photo of himself with the bear, saying, according to people who saw the post, that he, “Got it done last night with an absolute giant over 700 pounds.”
Conservation officer Jim Guida of Brainerd investigated the case after he received a tip about Stimac’s social media posts, acting DNR regional enforcement supervisor Shelly Patten of Grand Rapids said this week. Stimac also appeared on a podcast, FullScale Outdoors, discussing the bear kill, Patten said.
The bear couldn’t be moved due to its size, according to the federal charges, so Stimac cut off its head and paws and a small amount of meat and left the remaining carcass to rot.
Stimac faces the only two federal charges that apply, both misdemeanors: illegally taking, possessing and transporting wildlife in violation of tribal law, and trespassing on Indian land to hunt. The first could get him a year in prison and a $10,000 fine, the second, 90 days and a $5,000 fine, plus restitution for the animal.
State charges against Stimac will be filed after the federal case is settled, Patten said.
Stimac has previously been convicted of theft, receiving stolen property, assault with a dangerous weapon, fishing without a license, illegally transporting big game, spearing without a license and being a felon in possession of a gun.
Apparently unable to kill a deer legally by adhering to game-protection laws and the principles of fair chase, Stimac also baits deer.
In 2011, on the first day of the Minnesota firearms whitetail season, Stimac was tagged by conservation officer Greg Verkuilen for placing molasses and sugar beet pulp near his stand to attract deer to within gunshot range.
Verkuilen confiscated Stimac’s .30-06, which Stimac told the officer belonged to “his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend,” who subsequently asked the DNR to return it. The DNR denied the request, and an administrative law judge affirmed the decision.
A few points:
Whatever the outcome of the Red Lake Reservation bear-killing charges, Stimac, based on his record, is neither a hunter nor an angler, and is undeserving of either description. He is, simply, a criminal and a poacher and should be described as such.
After all, someone who is convicted of stealing while in a food store is not subsequently referred to as a “grocery shopper.” He or she is instead a shoplifter.
Similarly, someone who kills or attempts to kill an animal or fish illegally is neither a hunter nor an angler, but a poacher.
Sociologists and criminologists who have studied poachers conclude they take many forms.
Historically, in Britain and Europe, peasants who poached pheasants, deer, fish and other wildlife from landed gentry did so often to feed themselves and their families. For this, when caught, they sometimes had a hand or arm cut off — if they were lucky enough not to step in one of the many mantraps estate owners set to catch and sometimes kill trespassers.
A primary reason some Europeans crossed the Atlantic, in fact, to settle in America was that here, wildlife belonged to everyone, not, as was the case in Europe, to landowners on whose properties wildlife existed.
So abundant were early America’s resources, including wildlife, that their exhaustion wasn’t considered possible. Poaching, therefore, was generally seen as no big deal, and as with the legend of Robin Hood, often carried with it a certain romance.
“Hunters” who could outfox game wardens were, in some circles, seen as the most manly of men, whether they did so to feed their families or, more often, for the thrill of killing and getting away with it.
Either way, U.S. lawmakers, federal and state, historically have gone soft on poachers. Laws against stealing cars or other valuables from individuals have been considered important and have been assigned duly severe penalties, whereas laws prohibiting the theft from the public of a deer, duck or bear have been seen as small potatoes — and thus deserving of comparative slaps on the wrists.
So it would also seem in the case of Brett James Stimac, assuming the charges against him are proven.
That bears are important clan symbols to the Red Lake Nation of Chippewa makes the killing of any bear on the reservation, whether cub or adult, repulsive.
To the rest of us, its death should be no less loathsome. The animal’s meat wasn’t needed for food, and its death at the hands of a poacher who hung in the shadows of a dump craving an easy mark and a home-run social media post is impossible to condone.
Or even explain.
But, hey, it can’t be that big of a deal.
It’s only a misdemeanor.
Dennis Anderon • 612-673-4424