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Charlie P 01-10-2005 12:50 PM

Hunting Preserve exposed
Trial exposes the sham that is canned hunting

As the canned hunt crowd rallied around its beleaguered hero Russ Bellar last summer, it presented a variety of arguments intended to stick up for the guy after he was hit with a 38-count federal indictment that accused him of running an illegal deer hunting operation.

One of those arguments was that people opposed to canned hunts shouldn’t criticize what they’ve never seen or done. These places are really on the up-and-up, they said.

Well, over the past week the unknowing public got a detailed look at what goes on behind the high fences at one of those operations – Bellar’s Place, a 1,400-acre shooting preserve near Peru.

Witness after witness after witness after witness provided sworn testimony before a federal jury in U.S. District Court in South Bend about their experiences there:

•Country music star Ronnie Dunn testified that Bellar pointed out a deer for him to kill and that he shot it in a fenced-in pen. Under cross-examination by Bellar’s legal team, Dunn characterized the experience as something akin to "slaughtering cattle." (JM - Dunn also said it was sick & they had to almost kick it to get it to stand up -he paid $15,000 for it & hung it on his office wall!!! Can you believe this !!)
•Michael Kattawar Jr. of Nashville, Tenn., testified that he paid $25,000 in 2003 to kill five bucks using a bow and a rifle while hunting near bait. Indiana deer-hunting regulations prohibit the use of bait and allow only one buck, but Kattawar said Bellar’s Place was willing to let him take "as many deer as you want as long as you pay for it."

•Jeff Wickersham, who spent one season in the NFL as a quarterback with the Miami Dolphins, chose the deer he wanted to kill from a magazine.

"They gave me a price and I agreed to it," he testified. "I was there to hunt that specific deer."

Wickersham said the price was $20,000, that the deer was drugged and transported to the farm in a horse trailer. The deer was released from the trailer directly into the pen where Wickersham said he killed it in about 30 minutes after employees of Bellar’s Place chased it from the fence line.

•Wickersham’s friend, Tommy Freiman, testified that he didn’t want to "hunt" in a small pen and planned to kill a deer in a larger pen. Crunched for time because of a departing air flight, he ended up shooting one in the smaller pen anyway because he couldn’t wait any longer.

•Ivan Johnson of Jonesboro, Ga., testified he killed two bucks for a video promoting "Rack Attract," a deer bait developed and owned by Hinds Tom Jones, Bellar’s property manager who pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy count in the federal indictment and is scheduled to take the stand this week. Johnson is an investor in Rack Attract.

•Johnson also admitted to complicity in a scheme to fool another of Bellar’s clients, his friend Roger Torri of Georgia. Torri testified that he wounded a deer at the facility in 2003 but couldn’t find it. A couple of weeks later, a deer Tommy Freiman had picked out died overnight after having been tranquilized. Freiman testified that he told Hinds Jones he no longer wanted a deer that was already dead. Freiman said Johnson began making phone calls to see who wanted the deer, describing the deer to people as if it had been shot. He got a taker on the second call. In separate testimony, Torri testified that Johnson called to say that his wounded deer had been found. In reality, it was the Freiman deer that had died from a tranquilizer overdose. Torri took the antlers.

•Fred Rowan, CEO and chairman of Carter’s Clothing Inc., testified that he shot three bucks in a 3- to 4-hour span with his son, Andy, who shot his buck within an hour in a 5- to 10-acre pen.

They didn’t even stay the whole day, but Fred Rowan said he plunked down $20,000 for the biggest of his three deer, and $8,000 to $10,000 for the smaller two.

Many of these and other so-called "hunts" were videotaped by Rusty Camp for sale to the clients or to promote the facility to future clients. Camp said he made between 20 and 30 videos, of which five to 10 were fake.

"The hunts were pretty much done backward," he told the court.

Camp said clients would shoot deer, then go back and re-enact for the cameras. He testified some clients had a hard time grasping the concept.

Not Sydney Meachum, a friend of Hinds Jones from Mississippi, who testified that he was invited by Bellar and Jones to help them make a video. Meachum said he learned when he got to Bellar’s Place that it was a "fake hunt."

He then testified that he sat in a tree stand, fired an arrow and acted as if he had killed a deer. The deer was darted by a tranquilizer for the video. Meachum said that he’s left-handed but shot a right-handed bow for the video. He testified that fake blood was applied to the deer.

"I liked that," Meachum said. "It made it look all real." Real phony.

About as phony as the defense team’s efforts to portray Bellar as someone confused by the hunting rules and regulations of Indiana as they pertain to his pen-raised deer. That strategy took a blow Wednesday when Bellar’s Web site ( ) was shown to the jurors. On the site was a statement advising clients "ince there is no exemption for hunting preserves in Indiana, we have to follow the states weapon seasons."

The Web site that was accessed live in the courtroom Wednesday is no longer available. Someone pulled the plug.

All of this tells us that what went on at Bellar’s Place was a charade. It shouldn’t matter at this point what the jury decides in this case. It shouldn’t matter whether the jury blames Bellar or Jones or both, or neither.

The damage is done. Canned hunting has been exposed.

"It made it look all real."

No, it was unreal.

Phil Bloom has been outdoors editor for The Journal Gazette since 1991. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; phone, 461-8257; or fax 461-8648. or to discuss this column, go to the “Phil Bloom” topic of “The Board” at

hillbillyhunter1 01-10-2005 01:29 PM

RE: Hunting Preserve exposed
Holy Freakin Cow,

We should put every one of those guys in a 5-10 acre pen and hunt them with 00 buckshot. What jackholes


metro 01-10-2005 02:28 PM

RE: Hunting Preserve exposed
I always wondered why Ronnie Dunn never wore a cowboy hat.

Now I know why!

He is'nt fit to wear one!


TXhighrack 01-10-2005 02:43 PM

RE: Hunting Preserve exposed

The damage is done. Canned hunting has been exposed.
Can hunting was exposed long ago. I'll be one of the first to say this type of thing is totally wrong, has nothing to do with hunting, and all involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

I know alot of guys on this site (and in the hunting community in general) have a problem with "high fences" etc. Personally I dont have a problem with high fences because I know the difference between a well ran high fence ranch and a canned hunt, like the one discribed. I guess most of you guys hear about places like the one mentioned, and assume all "high fenced" ranches are ran like this one. I really cant blame some of you guys for thinking the way you do.

Country music star Ronnie Dunn testified that Bellar pointed out a deer for him to kill and that he shot it in a fenced-in pen. Under cross-examination by Bellar’s legal team, Dunn characterized the experience as something akin to "slaughtering cattle." (JM - Dunn also said it was sick & they had to almost kick it to get it to stand up -he paid $15,000 for it & hung it on his office wall!!!
Apparently Ronnie thought and knew that the animal he was about to shoot was not "fair chase" and totally went against the defintion of hunting. Yet he still had no problem pulling the trigger and mounting the animal on his wall. O' Well I never cared much for Brooks&Dunn any way.

trophy hunter 01-10-2005 05:46 PM

RE: Hunting Preserve exposed
i heard jimmy houston `hunted `there too, it sucks this is going on in my home state..

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