Right to Hunt and Fish Passes

Little Boy Catching a Fish

When I first picked up a fishing pole or went pheasant hunting, no one had ever heard of an organization formed to promote anti-hunting or anti-fishing. Sure, there were individuals who didn’t like those activities, but they were in the minority and they weren’t organized.

With time, anti-hunting and anti-fishing advocates have remained a minority, but they became organized. Organizers quickly learned how to market and promote themselves and make their minority seem larger, their causes more important. The animal-rights movement was born.

Early efforts from these groups were little more than pesky problems to resource managers and resource users. The common phrase “biting off more than they could chew” comes to mind. They soon learned to take smaller, more chewable bites. Instead of trying to ban all hunting, how about an effort to ban one small aspect of hunting? Instead of halting all fishing in a state, how about lobbying to stop fishing in a certain area?

There are plenty of other areas to fish, right? Sure, but what if the closed area is one of your favorite spots? What if your favorite way to hunt rabbits, or frogs, or deer is eliminated or curtailed?

For the most part, efforts by anti-groups have been unsuccessful but each effort is costly for both sides. For the antis, it’s what they are in business to do. For those opposing them, it’s not.

Hunters and fishermen don’t want to pay license fees to fend off assaults on their sport by animal welfare whackos. They want to pay fees to have management agencies work to give them more and better hunting and fishing opportunities. Hunters and fishermen have only so many dollars to spend on their sport. If they have to contribute to defeat a PeTA sponsored anti-fishing issue, that’s money not available for new gear or maybe a weekend of fishing.

The United States Sportsmen Alliance was born by the growing assault on traditional hunting, fishing and other uses of America’s fish and wildlife resources. When the Fund for Animals showed up with a ballot initiative or paid off some legislators to curtail traditional activities, the USSA showed up with the money and organization to counter the assault.

The USSA has been in existence for more than four decades. They’ve won most of the time, have lost a few battles, but they learned from each encounter. One thing they learned is the anti-groups pick their assaults wisely.

The antis know an effort to ban deer hunting in Wisconsin doesn’t have much chance of success. Far better for them to make an effort to stop bear hunting in New Jersey or fox hunting in Maryland.

The antis also learned which states’ political processes are easiest to exploit. It’s easier to push a ballot initiative through in Oregon than in Idaho. It’s easier to recruit sympathetic legislators in states with high urban populations like Illinois than in rural states like South Dakota.

About 20 years ago, proactively, the USSA initiated efforts in several states to make the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife something guaranteed in state constitutions. In Vermont, that right has existed since their constitution was written in 1777. The first state to bestow that right to their citizens in modern times was Alabama in 1996. The right to hunt and fish became a constitutional guarantee in another dozen and a half states since and won majority votes in Indiana and Kansas in the most recent election.

Didn’t Indiana hunters and fishers already have the right to pursue their fish, game and furbearer gathering pursuits? Not really, until now, hunting, fishing and trapping were “privileges” granted by the state government, just as driving a car is a privilege, not a right. Privileges can easily be revoked – rights, not so much.

That’s important because anti-hunting/anti-fishing groups looking for battles to fight, know they’ll have a much better chance to revoke a privilege than chipping away at a constitutional right.

In Indiana’s election, adding the right to hunt and fish to the state’s constitution passed 78/22 percent. Not only does that show strong support for these traditional activities, it’s a strong shield protecting Hoosier hunters, fishermen and trappers from animal welfare extremists and their agenda.

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Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website www.brother-nature.com or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at www.bronature.com

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