At Ted Nugent's Kamp for Kids in the Michigan woods last week, you had two choices. You could get a bow and arrow and hunt deer, elk, bear or what Nugent called "a great big Commie Russian hog." You could gut it out, haul it home and help feed your family.
Or not. But that, Nugent told the crowd of eighty children, boys and girls ages eleven to fifteen, would be a tragic surrender to the American culture of drugs, alcohol, malls and suburban malaise.
"If you want to have so much fun it's stupid, if you want to feel really alive," Nugent exhorted his audience in vacation-Bible-school style, "don't put poison in your body. If you want to get high, get a bow and arrow and put the arrow where you want it to go."
As a living example of what "clean living and lots of wild pork and venison" can do for a man, Nugent--as is his wont--offered himself. A hunter for 47 of his 48 years, Nugent said he had never touched drugs, alcohol, or tobacco products, and he invited the kids to compare him with "the insanity of other rock-and-rollers who got high and are now drooling and choking on their own vomit, or dead."
At Kamp, it was an easy sell. The children, fired up by three days of specialized training in such subjects as blood tracking, bow tuning, and the cooking and eating of elk, went home committed to what Kamp for Kids counselors call the Bowhunting Lifestyle.
It's the rest of the world that still needs a clue, Nugent says--but luckily, a few important battles are starting to turn. The most recent victory, he says, happened in Denver, where Nugent's self-produced Spirit of the Wild video series raised thousands of dollars for public TV station KBDI/Channel 12 during a recent pledge drive.
"These Colorado people said Coloradans wouldn't want to watch a hunting program," Nugent says. "I said, 'Fine, show my show, and show the Grateful Dead, and let's see who'll make more money.' I want thunderous applause for this: The Grateful Dead made two thousand dollars. Gutting hogs with The Nuge? Twenty-five thousand!"
Nugent not only knows why this happened, he explains it in verse:
Jerry did drugs.
I went hunting.
I'm still Ted!
Linda Peterson at the Ted Nugent World Bowhunters office in Jackson, Michigan, thinks it's a trend. The eight-part Spirit of the Wild series has been available for just over a year, she says, "and we're blowing our competition out of the water." Comparing Nugent-raised pledges on public TV stations to funds brought in by other musical acts is a favorite pastime at the World Bowhunters office. "In South Dakota, we totally out-pledged the Eagles," Peterson reports. Any other recent routs? "Yeah," she says, giggling uncontrollably. "Yanni."
Does Ted Nugent really rule the Denver airwaves? Well, kind of. KBDI membership manager David Nash says he's unaware of any Nugent vs. Garcia pledge battle, formal, informal or otherwise. But the station did air Spirit of the Wild during its August pledge drive, he says, and his best records indicate the show raised close to $20,000. "We aired the Grateful Dead at five the same day, and that show did only do a couple thousand," Nash confirms. (Other KBDI staffers insist the Dead did slightly better than that and point out that Dead Ahead aired while many potential Dead viewers probably were listening to the Dead-inspired band Phish at Red Rocks.)
"It's true Ted Nugent out-pledged the Grateful Dead," Nash says. "His show also raised a lot of Cain, if you will."
"It's due to the nature of the program," explains KBDI program manager Kirby McClure. "Ted Nugent hunts with a bow, skins 'em, kills 'em and eats 'em. That's what he does on his show, in addition to playing his guitar. Certainly, we did get a lot of complaints, but when money's flooding in, you take it all with a grain of salt."
What viewers actually saw on August 8 were three hours of Nugent's eight-part series. Spirit of the Wild features Nugent and various family members stalking game in locales from Canada to Africa, usually with bows and arrows. In rare indoor moments, Nugent cooks up quail breasts and elk medallions with his wife, Shemane, and puts aside his electric guitar during a concert to skewer a giant cardboard cut-out of Saddam Hussein with an arrow. His original song "I Just Wanna Go Hunting" plays in almost every show. Throughout, the message is one of ecological conservation unapologetically paired with the thrill of the kill. On screen, Nugent's persona shifts from moral to manly to goofy. Hunting, he says time and again, will make anyone a better person. Basic bowhunting lessons are included--from how to shoot for a quick, "humane" kill to the ever-controversial gutting process.
"Some people can't take it," admits David Nash. "It's a strange scenario. A lot of stations won't pick it up. Ted Nugent does seem nuts at times. Irreverent, certainly. But we shouldn't be intimidated by pressure not to air it. It's just like the gay/lesbian programming we do. We take a tremendous amount of negative calls for that, too. Our philosophy is, there's an off button on every TV."
That button doesn't seem to have seen much action during Spirit of the Wild. For every vegetarian who objected to the graphic sight of a wild hog's large intestine, there were several enthusiastic bowhunters (or lovers of weird programming) who pledged money to the station.
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And the success of Spirit of the Wild seems to have plunged membership manager Nash into a near-Talmudic philosophical tizzy. "Some people feel that bowhunting is cruel and inhumane," he muses. "And it is. If you don't get the perfect shot, the animal will run off and bleed to death. But then, Nugent advocates getting the right shot. He refuses to feed his family any meat he doesn't harvest himself. And areas even in our own state are overrun with mule deer...But then, he shoots a deer on one show, and the arrow goes right through it! And on another episode, he shoots a bear, which was a little troublesome to see. I don't know. He shows death on his show. The Grateful Dead don't do that."
In other words, the TV viewing public, even if willing to consume a cow, does not necessarily want to know how it became a burger.
"Yeah, and I'm a lone voice screaming from the mountain about that!" Nugent says from the Michigan office he likes to call Tedquarters. "I mean, how far can denial go? The gross ignorance seems to go unchallenged! We must arrive at the intelligent realization that hunting is okay if we do it responsibly. Not to realize that is like saying that the Exxon Valdez didn't happen unless you personally mopped crude oil off a dead cormorant."
"Sorry," he adds with a wicked laugh, "but even a tuna sandwich has a gut pile.