Troy Ripley has spent the past 13 years dealing with the worst kind of grief a parent can feel and trying to make things better.
No matter what you read after this, remember that fact: Troy Ripley wants to make things better.
In 2006, a hunter named Timothy Bean shot and killed his 18-year-old daughter, Megan, in the Oxford County town of Paris. Bean thought Megan was a deer and fired his muzzleloader, a single-shot “primitive” weapon that some hunters enjoy using.
Troy Ripley says now that he and his wife refused to put a value on their daughter’s life, and removed themselves from the debate about a proper sentence for Bean, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He figured prosecutors knew best, and it was up to them to decide what was appropriate.
The sentence: Two years in prison, with all but 30 days suspended.
“Timothy Bean kills Megan and gets 30 days, which in essence turns into 17 days in jail because you get half your time off for good behavior,” Troy Ripley said.
Shooting deaths of nonhunters by hunters are rare, but in 2017 another Oxford County woman, Karen Wrentzel, suffered the same fate as Megan Ripley. Wrentzel was killed by a hunter while she was on her own property.
Years before Megan died, Karen Wood was shot and killed in 1988 by a hunter who was later acquitted after saying he was shooting at a deer.
Ripley sees a pattern that should be avoidable. And he keeps asking himself a question.
“How can we have rules in place that would make a normal person adhere to them?” he asked.
Rules like knowing what’s being shot at and what lies beyond that target. Or simply obeying a landowner’s wishes when a piece of property is posted “No Hunting.”
Ripley has had run-ins with hunters in the years since Megan’s death, you see.
“In 2016, 10 years to the day after my daughter was killed, a guy comes waltzing off my posted property with a muzzleloader, in orange,” Ripley said. “I interacted with him in a fashion in which he clearly understood my dissatisfaction with him being on my property.”
That hunter wasn’t prosecuted, Ripley said, in part because of his spotless prior criminal record. Ripley said he understands that the criminal justice system is clogged with cases more severe than trespassing complaints.
At one time, Ripley believed that requiring reverse posting was the answer. Now, he doesn’t. He owns a couple hundred acres, including one parcel far from his home where he doesn’t really care how many hunters are tromping around.
“[Reverse posting] is way too simple with the complexities of how we operate in Maine,” he said.
But Ripley said he spent some time thinking about the issue again. The question: Is there a way to send a safety and ethics message that doesn’t involve prosecution?
He thinks there is, after talking with Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso and Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, about legislation that might help.
The result is LR 2669, an act to create administrative review of hunting and fishing license violations.
Though the actual language of the legislation has not been finalized, Ripley’s hope is that an administrative action could be imposed by the commissioner or another designee, requiring a hunter or angler to complete educational or ethics classes in order to receive a license, whether charges have been filed or not.
“Everything is pushed into the criminal justice system [now], and that takes all of the remedial action out of the DIF&W’s hands,” Ripley said.
Instead, he wonders, what would happen if another kind of deterrent is added to the DIF&W’s toolbox? Couldn’t that make things better? Safer?
Ripley wants hunters to go into the woods with the knowledge that their privilege to hunt in Maine can be taken away if they’re not acting safely and ethically.
Here’s what he wants hunters to think:
“I have the opportunity to lose my license or have to go through some kind of remedial training if I don’t pay the hell attention to what’s going on around me, and where I’m at, and how I’m conducting my business,” he said.
The plan promises to be controversial.
“I’m frustrated that every time you mention something about hunting, certain groups instantly try to turn it into a gun control issue,” Ripley said.
He said that’s not the aim here. This is not a gun-related bill. Not even close.
Instead, it’s about respect. Safety. Treating others the way you want to be treated. And providing state officials a way to redirect hunters and anglers when they stray from accepted norms.
All things considered, heading afield with a clear understanding of one’s ethical and legal responsibilities does not seem to be too much to ask.
We’ll see if the Legislature agrees.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, has been published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.