You know something’s gone wrong when Bill Hall is suddenly a criminal.
Late last month, officers for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) surprised the WSMV-Channel 4 weatherman and avid hunter with a citation for illegally hunting turkey in Dickson County. Making matters more embarrassing for the beloved television personality, Hall was in the middle of taping his outdoor show, Land and Lakes, when the long arm of the law put the kibosh on his early morning hunt.
“We were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Hall says. “That’s all there is to it.”
He’s going to have to explain that to the judge. On Friday, Hall is scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court in Dickson County. Hall faces a Class B misdemeanor and, if convicted, the long-term forecast for the Channel 4 weatherman could include a maximum fine of $500 and up to six months in jail. (Judges almost never send first-time offenders to jail.)
On March 29, at 6:12 a.m., the TWRA officially cited Hall for hunting over bait, the name of the offense for planting food to lure prey, making the prey an easy target for shock and awe. That’s against the law, because it gives the hunter, who already has a gun, an unfair advantage over the hoodwinked, hungry and unarmed animal. TWRA officials take that offense very seriously. Once they receive a tip that a field has been stocked with food to lure prey, officers often will stake out the property to nab the offending hunter.
Hall, who has toiled at the station for nearly 29 years, explains to the Scene that the entire incident was a misunderstanding. Shane Dunning, an officer with the Dickson Police Department, invited Hall for a turkey hunt on property that Dunning leases from a farmer. As it turns out, the farmer had corn and wheat hay out for his cattle, which, in the eyes of the TWRA officers, was serving as turkey bait. The officers came out of the woods to serve Hall and his companions with citations. The hunters had become the hunted. (Incidentally, the cameraman escaped citation.)
Hall says that he had no idea he was doing anything illegal. “I think it was all just an innocent mistake,” he says. “Shane should have made sure that there was no corn whatsoever on the property.”
But Dunning, who also received a citation, isn’t so sure. He suspects, um, foul play. He says that many area hunters resent that he’s able to hunt on prime property that isn’t available to them. And he suspects they grew green with envy when they received word that Bill Hall was taping Land and Lakes with him in Dickson County. The turkey hunting episode was slated to air on April 5. “It was a big thing,” he says. “Everybody was pumped up that Bill Hall was doing a show.”
Dunning’s suspicion is that an envious hunter tipped off the TWRA about the cattle feed, making it seem like it was doubling as turkey bait. As proof of his defense, he says, he has video of the cows feasting on the hay and corn just 10 minutes after the TWRA officers issued their citations. “It was a set-up, and it might get dirty before it gets pretty,” he says ominously. As for Hall, Dunning says, “He wasn’t doing anything wrong. If you ask me, this is malicious prosecution on the part of TWRA.”
For their part, those jackbooted thugs at the state agency aren’t talking. “It’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” says a stern Steve Nifong, the assistant chief of law enforcement for the TWRA. “It can’t and won’t be discussed.”
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