2017-11-30 / Front Page

Video captures ‘hunter harassment’

by Jay Bushen
Enterprise sports editor

A video shot by a local hunter near his blind on commercial forestland in Maple City has not only captured the attention of local law enforcement — but also hunters across the state.

The video, which has garnered more than 300,000 views on Facebook, provides a three-minute, 18-second exchange between hunter Keith O’Neil and a neighbor who was identified as “Mary.” The video starts with the neighbor scattering O’Neil’s bait pile, then gets R-rated once O’Neil gets her attention.

“God (expletive),” she says. “I really don’t believe in this (expletive) crap.”

“Mary, I’m calling local law enforcement,” he replies. “You’re harassing me. I am allowed to hunt this property.”

“If you can’t shoot a deer on your own without putting (expletive) bait down, good luck,” she says.

O’Neil then explains he is hunting legally on commercial forestland.

“You just ruined my day,” he said. “I am calling the police. Thank you very much, Mary.”

Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is processing the case under a state law identifying and prohibiting hunter harassment. He expects a prosecution.

Borkovich said O’Neil’s idea to pull out a smartphone is one other county hunters can follow should they come under a similar situation in the future.

“If people are harassing hunters, you should take your phone, record the people while they’re doing it and get the license plate and description of their vehicle,” Borkovich said. “That’s irrefutable evidence.”

O’Neil initially posted the video to his “O’Neil Hunting Adventures” Facebook page but has since pulled it down due to what he described online as “distasteful comments.”

He shared the video with “MIBUCKPOLE” and similar pages, however, where Facebook users can still view the video.

An attempt to reach O’Neil for comment have been unsuccessful, but he did post an update to his O’Neil Hunting Adventures page on Nov. 20: “I received a phone call from Leelanau County Sheriff today, and I was advised that I was given the wrong information. That this is Hunter Harassment, and the Sheriff was going to meet with the county prosecutor. Apparently both prosecutors were out hunting, and a new person was dealing with the situation. Thus the (missed) communication. I am just glad, I contacted the Sheriff personally to follow up. Other wise this could have slipped through the cracks.

“We had over 300k views, with hunter support, Leelanau Counties Law Enforcement & DNR have been very helpful with this investigation. Thank you everyone for your support!”

Outcome aside, the conflict shows how hunters should handle harassment.

Maple City sportsman Andrew Milliron, president of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) Northwest Michigan Branch, said hunters ought to approach such situations with empathy and an open mind.

“Always try to put yourself in the other position,” Milliron said. “There’s people there that don’t support hunting, just like there’s people out there who don’t like Michigan or Michigan State. Don’t try to escalate the situation. Try to cool it down. Say we’re part of a group of people trying to control the deer herd. There’s no reason to add fuel to the fire. Sometimes people throw anger back, but that doesn’t help the situation. As hunters, we have to think with a clear head and explain the fact that — as long as they’re playing by the rules — there’s no reason for the other person to get upset.

“For a lot of guys, getting in the woods is quiet time away from the family and out in nature. And for a lot of guys, it’s a chance to put meat in the freezer. Venison is our beef; we go through three or four deer a year. I could probably go out and afford to buy beef, but I enjoy the thrill of hunting and putting food on the table that’s all natural. I think it’s a big plus. I applaud everyone who wants to go out and do that.”

Milliron also said hunters on public land ought to be aware of their surroundings.

He said other opening-day hunters have set up shop within 50 yards of him in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“Let’s give each other some breathing room,” he said.

Steve Griffith, a wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Traverse City Customer Service Center, said hunter harassment is rare in northern Michigan.

Griffith referenced a Kalkaska woman who used to make noise to disrupt her neighbor, but he couldn’t recall other specific examples.

“Hopefully it doesn’t happen too often,” Griffith said. “If there’s any conflict or hunter harassment, just call the RAP (Report All Poaching) line; that’s exactly what it’s for. Minimize the confrontation. I’d unload my weapon, not get into an argument and report the confrontation. Let the (conservation officers) deal with it. That presents a good image of a conscientious, safe hunter and lets law enforcement deal with it.”

The Report All Poaching number is 800-292-7800.

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