Alabamians once again voted to support hunting and fishing, with 80 percent checking the "YES" box beside Amendment 5 to the State Constitution in the November election.
Amendment 5 added the following language to the Alabama Constitution:
"The people have a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable regulations, to promote wildlife conservation and management, and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Hunting by the public and fishing by the public shall be the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This amendment shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to eminent domain, trespass or property rights."
NRA President and prominent Alabama attorney Jim Porter said, "Amendment 5 – Right to Hunt and Fish will protect our sporting traditions from attack initiated by well-funded national anti-hunting groups that have assailed sportsmen throughout the country in recent years. Additionally, it specifies that wildlife conservation and management decisions will be based on sound science, not the misguided emotions of anti-hunting extremists. Hunting by the public and fishing by the public shall be the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife."
Thankfully, the percentage of voters who support lawful, ethical hunting has not changed too much since 1996 when Alabama voters adopted a similar amendment by an 81 percent margin. The 1996 Amendment simply read:
"All persons shall have the right to hunt and fish in this state in accordance with law and regulations."
According to information compiled by the Initiative and Public Referendum Institute, Alabama was the first state to adopt such a referendum, followed by Minnesota (1998), North Dakota (2000), Virginia (2000), Wisconsin (2003), Louisiana (2004), Montana (2004), Georgia (2006), Oklahoma (2008) and others. The language varies, with some referring to hunting as, "a valued part of our state heritage." Another reads, "Hunting, trapping, fishing and the taking of game and fish … will be preserved for the people and managed by law and regulation for the public good."
Three states already included the right to hunt and fish in their state constitution: Vermont (1777), Rhode Island (1844) and California (1910, right to fish only).
Having watched the public policymaking process up close and personal for many years, I am always cautious about ballot initiatives on hunting issues. Remember that only 7 percent of the people hunt. Fortunately, the vast majority of Alabama voters support hunting, as long as fair chase is preserved. When asked the question "Do you support hunting?" in a public opinion poll, the response was 87 percent "Yes." However, only 19 percent responded "Yes" when asked, "Do you support hunting over bait?" Based on the vote in November, 20 percent of Alabama voters were not in favor of hunting being guaranteed as a basic right. That means one out of five people who voted do not support hunting.
The constitutional amendment should stand as a vivid reminder that our rights are defined for us by society. This is why our conduct as hunters should always be responsible and ethical.
Many vividly remember the overwhelming adoption of a local referendum on hunting by voters in a certain east Alabama county not that many years ago in which the question was, "Do you favor hunting deer with dogs?" Based on a series of conflicts between landowners and a small rogue element of hunters, public sentiment was so strong that had the question been, "Do you favor hunting?" there would probably be no hunting now in that county.
A point worthy of note is the slight erosion of public support for hunting over the past 18 years in Alabama. Based on the results of public opinion polls in Alabama and across America, it is obvious that as fair chase is compromised, public support for hunting is lost.
Around the country, ballot initiatives are increasingly being used by anti-hunters to restrict or prohibit hunting. Alabama hunters are well served by proactively protecting their rights through the adoption of Constitutional Amendment 5.
Considering the language in Amendment 5, of particular significance is that, in order to meet Constitutional muster, new hunting and fishing regulations must be "reasonable, and promote wildlife conservation and management, and preserve the future of hunting and fishing."
Furthermore, hunting is legally established as the preferred wildlife management tool, as opposed to other pie-in-the-sky animal-rights extremist approaches to deal with over-abundant populations of deer and other animals.
As the authors of "The Sportsman’s Voice: Hunting and Fishing in America" note in regard to hunting- and fishing-related referenda, "As these trends indicate, the majority of recurring ballot issues concerned with sportsmen and wildlife are sponsored and initiated by anti-hunting interests. On the other hand, hunters and sportsmen are, for their part, responsible for initiating just one of the major recurring ballot issues: the proposal to insert right-to-hunt-and-fish language into state constitutions. Considering the frequency of ballot measures proposed exclusively to limit the rights of sportsmen, these right-to-hunt-and-fish constitutional amendments can be viewed largely as defensive – in some cases, preemptive – strategies by pro-hunting/pro-sportsmen interests."
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.