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The Hunt For Reason

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Hunt For Reason

By Lacey Biles,
NRA-ILA Hunting Policy Liaison

Gone are the days when hunters could simply throw a few shells in their pockets and head to the woods. Before they walk out of their doors, today’s hunters must navigate a web of rules and regulations that would entangle a team of shrewd lawyers. Simple has become complicated. Logical has become illogical. Too often, reason no longer prevails in the rules that govern hunting. As a result, on any given day, even the most conscientious of hunters could unintentionally violate any host of bizarre regulations.

Maybe they have only four permits and two stamps instead of five permits and three stamps. Maybe they exceeded the 25-shot shell limit by having two additional shells in another pocket—remnants of a previous hunt. Maybe they threw their uncased bow in the back of their truck while caught up in the excitement of taking the buck of a lifetime. Maybe the mandatory “Be Safe” stickers, which must be attached to the receiver of a Missouri hunter’s turkey gun and in their line of sight while aiming, came unstuck.

(If the “Be Safe” sticker held any bit of logic, then maybe we should have a large “Be Safe” sticker on every steering wheel because driving is vastly more dangerous than hunting.) Such overbearing regulations are discouraging many hunters from participating at a time when promoting America’s great heritage is paramount. That leads me to ask two questions: Has common sense been eradicated? Or, have the anti-hunting activists influenced legislators and regulators to enact complex laws and regulations that are nothing more than a back-door attempt to end hunting?

To answer these questions, we must compare today’s regulatory morass to a simpler time when hunters could hunt without getting tangled in red tape. Today there are states that ban the use of dogs for game retrieval, when dogs are far and away the most effective tool hunters could use to fulfill their ethical obligation to their wounded quarry. There are some jurisdictions that require hunters to get a taxidermy license in order to perform a simple do-it-yourself skull mount of their trophy—the kind that adorned cabins throughout frontier America. There is a state that requires hunters to consume their game meat within a specific period of time. Many states prohibit sound suppressors on hunting guns when they have a simple purpose to protect hearing and reduce noise complaints. Unbelievably, some prohibit a hunter from sighting in his rifle on his property in the days before the opener of deer season because of irrational fears about poaching.

At a time when Little Orphan Annie might have resonated from the radio, one or two basic permits and a healthy dose of common sense were all a hunter needed to be legal and safe in the hunting woods. Hunting regulation manuals numbered a few pages instead of those of today that often exceed 100. The National Firearms Museum gives us a picture of what that forgotten time looked like. A diorama of a typical boy’s room from the 1950s shows a rack of .22 rifles and a coonskin cap. This display reminds us of a time when common sense prevailed in the hunting world, and smart and concise regulations ensured a pleasurable day afield. Straightforward bag limits were the most complicated rule that had to be followed.

Hunters want to recall that earlier time. They have had their fill of over-regulation. Accordingly, they are calling for legislators and regulators to do what makes sense: Punish the few poachers and relax the regulatory web for the millions of ethical, law-abiding hunters. But to deregulate, we must understand how we acquired so many regulations in the first place.

Over-regulation occurred because busybody bureaucrats and “do-gooders” sought to stop infrequent abuse even if it meant seriously hampering the good guys. Whether intended or not, this played right into the hands of our opponents who seek to end all hunting in America, one small step at a time.

The anti-hunting zealots understand what is politically achievable. They know recent polls show that approximately 78 percent of Americans support hunting. Because of this strong support for our sporting heritage, anti-hunters use deception and below-board tactics to chip away at legal protections for hunting. Wayne Pacelle—the president of the largest animal “rights” organization in America, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—explained the tactic in an interview recounted in “Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt” by Ted Kerasote:

Interviewer: “About fishing … do you avoid campaigning against it because there isn’t a ground-swell movement in our culture to eliminate it?”

Wayne Pacelle: “That is correct. We’re out to minimize suffering wherever it can be done, and wherever our limited resources can be utilized most effectively—abusive forms of hunting for now, all hunting eventually.”

The method of choice for the anti-hunting extremists is to use emotional, unfortunate and isolated incidents to convince legislators and regulators to institute overbearing regulations. Too often, these incidents are paraded across the legislative floor, and common sense is banished from the room. State game departments are also vulnerable to the exploitation of such incidents. The result is misguided legislation and over-regulation that punish law-abiding hunters by burdening them with unreasonable rules associated with virtually every action that they take. And, of course, the overarching result is success for the anti-hunting zealots who want to dismantle hunting regulation-by-regulation, one discouraged hunter at a time.

To combat the anti-hunters’ sneaky tactics, law-abiding hunters must inject a dose of common sense into the legislative and regulatory processes. Codified in the title of Thomas Paine’s revolutionary work, common sense is arguably one of America’s founding principles. Back then “Common Sense” was a reaction to the monarchy’s efforts to control the people. Patriots and future Americans acted when reason was noticeably absent, whether it was taxation without representation or hammering out safeguards for the individuals flying one flag over a fledgling nation. They fundamentally understood there is a need for rules and regulations, but that the development and application of such requires logic and fairness. Accordingly, policymakers must succumb to a dose of logic themselves. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Reason and common sense have become fleeting qualities as we continually see hunting regulations enacted that would make early Americans simply scratch their heads and possibly laugh before they grasped the seriousness of things. Hunters today also scratch their heads in this manner and cannot believe that a revered heritage that has remained with humans since their earliest days could possibly be in jeopardy.

Your NRA works to bring common sense back to the hunting realm. We are on a nationwide campaign to simplify hunting regulations and remove the unnecessary and often illogical hurdles that law-abiding hunters must clear to enjoy their heritage. Whether it is big-picture attempts to end hunting or local ordinances that defy reason, we utilize a broad spectrum of strategies and tools to ensure the future of sportsmen and the conservation they promote.

Help us on our mission. Do not let over-regulation dissuade you from going out with your rifle or from introducing new hunters to a legacy that is the ultimate defender of wildlife. Retention and recruitment of hunters are vital to protect our natural resources and way of life. Become actively involved in the legislative and regulatory processes to encourage common sense. If we all do our part, the trend can be reversed and hunters will be allowed to focus on the indelible enjoyment and reflection which hunting imparts.


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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.