When I first started hunting, I began as many do, focusing first on small game, and then turkey and deer. It wasn’t until several years later that I was introduced to waterfowl hunting, where I experienced the joy that can be found in watching a well-trained dog conduct some very impressive retrieves in immediate control of their owner. Admittedly, there have now been more than a few missed opportunities in which I was more focused on watching the dogs work than scanning the skies for an approaching flight of ducks. In the subsequent years, I’ve now hunted with dogs for pheasant, grouse, other upland game, and have gone on a few bear hunts using dogs. In each instance, I have been tremendously impressed with the dedication and commitment to training that the owners/handlers exhibited and the time and resources involved in ensuring a dog reaches its full potential afield. Further, in every instance, the owners exhibited the same love and compassion that I show to my lab, Timber.
This is a message that is often lost on groups like the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other groups that work to systematically dismantle our time-honored sporting traditions. At the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) we track thousands of bills each legislative session (refer to Tracking the Capitols for a sampling of some of the more high-profile bills). In recent years, we have seen a significant shift in the approaches of these anti-sportsmen organizations. In 2014, in part thanks to the diligent work of legislative sportsmen’s caucuses working in tandem with a suite of both in-state and national partners, the sportsmen’s community handed two resounding defeats to the antis in both Maine and Michigan. While these large-scale campaigns are certainly a recurring threat, and something that we as sportsmen and women need to remain guarded against, in recent years we’ve seen more of a “death by a thousand cuts” approach. The antis are now targeting seemingly inconsequential (or misunderstood) issues to more slowly erode our proud heritage.
Hunting with dogs, and dog ownership generally, fits into this category and has recently been a go-to issue for them. In 2017 alone, our States Program Team staff tracked 118 bills on this topic including, but not limited to dog tethering bills, bills related to standards for kennel conditions, banning or modifying certain types of hunting with dogs, limiting training opportunities on public lands, and the list goes on. As a dog lover, I can understand how those that might otherwise support hunting would be confused over some of these bills. It is a very easy narrative for the antis to spin, to say that we need to advocate for proper kennel conditions, and that there should be some basic conditions on tethering your dog for extended periods of time or in extreme conditions. However, problems arise in that many of these bills are crafted with such broad language that they would severely impact the ability of sportsmen and women while afield. It will come as no surprise to many that nearly half of these bills (55, 47%) were in northeast states – a renowned hotbed of anti-sportsmen activity. Still, there were a few good bills thrown in to the mix (12 of the 118 to be exact), such as efforts to expand/authorize the use of tracking dogs to retrieve wounded game in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
The take-away message here is that we, as a community, need to remain diligent on these bills, and carefully evaluate the language of each proposal. As mentioned above, a one-size-fits-all approach to this topic often negatively impacts hunting. CSF and our States Program Team staff will continue to track this and other issues the antis are now turning to (ivory bans, lead tackle and ammunition bans, trophy importation bans, inserting animal rights curriculum in schools, etc.) extremely closely in the years ahead. However, now that most legislatures have adjourned, we can take a brief respite, and in so doing I find my focus turning towards an upcoming hunt in Maine where I’ll once again be in the woods, chasing the baying of a pack of hounds on a hot bear trail.
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