Critics of the proposed Right to Hunt and Fish amendment to the state constitution contend that it is unnecessary because that right is not threatened. One recent anti-amendment editorial claimed that Tennessee has never banned any type of wild-game hunting, and that there are no organized anti-hunting and anti-fishing movements in Tennessee.
Wrong and wrong.
Years ago, the state legislature banned the hunting of albino whitetail deer. Wildlife biologists said there was no game-management reason for the ban; it was based purely on a Disney-esque sentiment. While most hunters would never shoot an albino deer anyway, the fact is there is a precedent for banning the hunting of a certain wild game based purely on emotion and legislative whim.
And though the radical anti-hunting and anti-fishing organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has no state chapter, it aggressively pursues its agendas in Tennessee. For example, PETA is currently pressuring the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to disband its collegiate fishing team.
PETA describes Tennessee’s Right to Hunt and Fish amendment as “a desperate effort to prop up a dying pastime.”
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which drafted the amendment, notes that hunting and fishing are a state-granted “privilege,” not a right as generally assumed.
The amendment would provide a safeguard by allowing hunters and fishermen the means to appeal any challenge to the right to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Without constitutional protection, a ban could be passed by legislators motivated by personal anti-hunting sentiment or pressured by
One red herring that anti-amendment forces float is that granting constitutional protection would take away the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s ability to enforce game and fish laws. They suggest that under the amendment hunters could exercise their “constitutional right” to take deer or ducks, bass or bluegill at any time, by any method and in any number. That is, of course, preposterous; hunting and fishing would continue to be regulated by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission and the TWRA, with oversight from the state legislature.
Just as the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not impede government authority to regulate ownership and use of firearms, the right to hunt and fish would have common-sense restrictions.
Alarmed by various hunting bans in Europe and Great Britain and by growing threats in the U.S., 12 states have added a right-to-hunt amendment to their constitutions. Four more, including Tennessee, have it on this fall’s ballot.
Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, hunters and fishermen have been in the vanguard of the conservation movement. In Tennessee, proceeds from license sales and related revenues support the TWRA, provide habitat preservation and acquisition, and fund such nationally renowned programs as the restoration of whitetail deer, wild turkeys and — most recently — East Tennessee elk.
An estimated 750,000 Tennesseans hunt and fish, supporting a billion-dollar industry.
Unlike our pioneer ancestors, few Tennesseans today hunt and fish for subsistence. Instead it is affirmation of an outdoors heritage and a connection to a nostalgic past, following bird dogs through frost-sparkling fields and wading gurgling trout streams; a time when youngsters shivered with excitement beside their dads in duck blinds instead of being mentally and physically desiccated by video games and television.
There is no question that hunting and, to a lesser extent fishing, are under siege in an increasingly urbanized society. Anyone who argues otherwise is either abjectly misinformed or deliberately deceptive. The right to hunt and fish has become like everything else in modern society: If we want it protected, we’d better get it in writing.
Larry Woody is a Nashville sports writer who has covered racing since the early 1970s.