WVU mascot told not to use musket for hunting
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A video circulating on the Internet of a young man hunting bear in the woods with his friends and dogs is raising a few eyebrows across the country.
The hunter, West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot Jonathan Kimble, was carrying the school-issued muzzle-loader rifle in the woods of his native Pendleton County on Monday, which was opening day for bear hunting with firearms.
The video shows Kimble, 24, in a camouflage WVU sweatshirt and a ball cap instead of the well known buckskins and coonskin cap. He points the five-foot long rifle at a treed black bear. Dogs can be heard yipping and whining over the university's fight song, which was edited over the video.
Kimble, who was voted to be the Mountaineer in February, fires a shot. The sound is similar to the one WVU fans are accustomed to hearing at games. But instead of bringing out the Mountaineers, the shot brings down the bear.
Kimble and his friends whoop and holler, and he throws in a "Let's Go Mountaineers!"
The rifle, which bears a distinctive gold West Virginia-shaped plate on the stock, is fired before every Mountaineer home football game and is carried at school events the mascot attends.
It is a real working rifle, although as university spokesman John Bolt pointed out in an emailed statement, only powder is used when the musket is discharged at public functions.
Bolt said university officials spoke to Kimble about the incident. Kimble said he agreed the rifle should only be used for school-related activities.
"While Jonathan Kimble's actions broke no laws or regulations, the University has discussed this with him and he agrees that it would be appropriate to forego using the musket in this way in the future," Bolt said in the email. "There are some provisions regarding the gun, but none that prohibit its use outside of the University-sponsored functions or for hunting purposes."
Kimble was toting the muzzle-loader Wednesday night in Charleston where the men's basketball team downed Marshall's Thundering Herd in the Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic.
As the mascot, he stays busy between making appearances and taking classes. He said Thursday evening in a phone interview that Monday was the only day he'd been able to make it out to hunt so far this month.
He hunted deer with the musket earlier this year. He also said Mountaineers have taken their guns hunting.
"A previous Mountaineer told me he'd taken it deer hunting back in the 90s and others have said they've been hunting with it," Kimble said. "It's something like a tradition."
Kimble said he and about 15 others, friends and family members, got up early Monday morning and made their way out into the woods in Pendleton County. He said there were a number of bears visible that morning but that their dogs finally treed one about four or five hours into the hunt.
The rifle doesn't have a scope but Kimble, who said he has hunted all his life, raised the muzzle-loader and fired one shot, taking the female bear down. It was the first black bear he'd ever killed.
Kimble was active on his WVU Mascot Twitter account.
He posted a picture of himself holding the dead bear and the rifle on Monday, saying "Killed a WV Black Bear today with my Mountaineer rifle today!!" That post was re-tweeted 110 times.
Kimble said when he heard the video had been posted online he asked the poster to remove it. The original video was taken down but appeared again on YouTube.com.
"I'm sorry if anyone took offense to it," he said. "Hunting can be a controversial topic but it definitely wasn't my intention to offend anyone."
Some fans took to Twitter to express their feelings, some in support and some in dismay.
Alum Ryan Zelaski re-tweeted the picture, adding to it "Coolest. Mascot. Ever." But Tami W., who describes herself as a devoted grandmother and West Virginia fan, asked, "Why do men think killing animals is cool? Did it attack you or yours? You gonna eat it?"
Kimble weighed in via Twitter.
"Way over populated with bear back home and we all eat the meat," he tweeted.
Alex Triveri, who cites his location as Wheeling, tweeted, "The next time the mountaineer decides to shoot a defenseless bear cub out of a tree I hope momma bear is around."
Kimble told one of his followers that he planned to make a rug out of the animal's hide and make bear jerky among other foods. He said they make bear burgers and other foods to feed their families. An avid hunter, he often shares his deer jerky with friends and fans.
Kimble said he loaded it with a .45-caliber round ball for the hunt.
Though at games his only ammunition is black powder, he said he's gotten good at loading the rifle quickly, pointing out that he only has about 20 seconds between touchdowns and the field goal.
He said the bear weighed a little more than 150 pounds and that the average adult female bear weighs 90 to 250 pounds.
"They don't get very big," he said. "This one wasn't a cub. She was a few years old."
The bear appears small on the video, but Hoy Murphy, spokesman for the state Division of Natural Resources, said bears weighing over 75 pounds are fair game.
"As far as we can tell from the video, at this point it's safe to assume this was a legal bear hunt," Murphy said.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com or 304-348-4850.