Drive in behind the wheel of something small, some damn Japanese car, and you feel like a fish out of water. But it's more than that; you feel almost unpatriotic. The lot of Phoenix Civic Plaza is filled with four-wheel-drive monsters, many of which have a ground clearance higher than the roof of a Mitsubishi. These vehicles represent the hard-charging, empire-building spirit that all those liberal types want to toss out along with the ashes of Old Glory herself! These things don't just own the road, they own the off-road, too, pal. And that's where hunters go hunting, and there are a lot of hunters here today (January 8). Came in with their Fords, Chevys and GMCs to attend the Ted Nugent World Bowhunters Family Conservation Rally and Hunters' Concert. Call him The Whackmaster, The Motor City Madman, Uncle Ted, Your Favorite White Guy (he refers to himself as all of the above), or by the simple sobriquet used by two generations of rock fans--The Nuge--he is the driving force and main attraction of this gala event.
It's about hunting. It's about rock. It's about families. It's about being a True American. Walk up to the window and pay your $12 to get in, but leave that holster and quiver at the door, friend. There is a handwritten sign taped up containing six words and boundless irony: "No Weapons of Any Kind Allowed."
Nugent started the World Bowhunters organization, now 10,000 members strong, three years ago. According to a Bowhunters' flier, the rock n' roller's organization is "about being in touch. Workin' hard, playing hard and retaining a pulse with the world around us." He emphasizes conservation, courtesy and clean living (Nugent is vehemently antidrink, drugs and tobacco). And he eats everything he kills.
Ted, who has recorded 20 rock albums since 1969, now publishes the bimonthly World Bowhunters magazine, and the full-color Whackmaster catalogue. If you're in the market for a Gonzo Safari bow, Zwickey Judo shooting heads, Whackmaster arrows, targets and pruning shears, a full wardrobe of camouflage clothing (including diapers) or Nuge CDs, posters or a handpainted, Zebra Whackmaster guitar--look no further. Nugent has quite a business going here, and he claims all the proceeds are funneled back into the organization.
But back to the rally.
You walk through the foyer toward the main hall, passing a table set up by the Libertarians. They're having a contest. There's a sign that says "Win a Gun." Well, one of three guns, actually: an AR-15, AK-47 or an SKS. "It's $5 a ticket," says a Libertarian in a suit. "Your chances are better than a scratcher at Circle K." The real action is inside. There are a couple thousand people here this afternoon, parents with small children, boyfriends with girlfriends, folks who look like hunters, folks who look like rockers. Plenty of camouflage wear and Jack Daniel's tee shirts. And despite The Nuge's profound hatred of alcohol, there is plenty of beer on sale.
A soundtrack of Nuge-music plays on the PA as everyone drifts among the many booths, booths displaying just about any hunting-related thing you can think of. And maybe some you can't.
Just down from the Rattlesnake Archery stall is Denmark Sausage. Mark and Trey are in charge, giving free samples of Slim Jim, summer sausage and jerky, all made out of elk meat. Go ahead, try some. And guess what? That's terrific elk! Mark explains you can bring in your own kill--deer, antelope, javelina and elk, of course--and have it turned into a delicious meat snack for only $39. Forty-eight bucks if it's unskinned.
The affable guy at the Webster's Sure Loc broadhead booth is showing three young boys a few arrow tips he's designed. He's holding a particularly nasty-looking one that opens up on impact. "It's got a two-and-a-half-inch cut," he says, explaining how the thing works. "It's like modern surgery, they go in and fix what's wrong, this goes in and wrecks everything that's right." A woman gets up onstage and begins raffling off all kinds of stuff, from hunting items to suntan lotion. The grand prize is a satin-finish, muzzle-loader rifle valued at $585. All proceeds will go to D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that encourages kids to inform on everybody, including their parents.
Wink LaPlante is listening to the ticket numbers as they're announced; she stands with her 9-year-old daughter, Elyse. Both look like they're having a blast. "Our man brought us here," laughs Wink, who doesn't hunt, but thinks "it's wonderful--we eat the meat they bring home." Does Elyse like Nugent? "I don't know nothing about Ted," she says. What about hunting? "It bugs me cause I like animals and I don't really like killing animals, but Dad wants me to grow up to be like him, so I probably will get into hunting when I'm old enough."