Right to Hunt, Fish and Harvest Wildlife

Summary

Though hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife have long been an American heritage, dating back to before the first Europeans arrived in North America, only recently has the “right” to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife come into question. In order to establish in perpetuity what has been assumed for centuries, several states have sought amendments to their state constitutions that give their citizens a right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and to continue a consumptive, yet responsible, use of natural resources.

Introduction

Though hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife have long been an American heritage, dating back to before the first Europeans arrived in North America, only recently has the “right” to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife come into question. Anti-hunting organizations would lead the public to believe that hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife are only a privilege subject to social pressures and prevailing public sentiments, rather than an inherent right. In order to establish in perpetuity what has been assumed for centuries, several states have sought amendments to their state constitutions that give their citizens a right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and to continue a consumptive, yet responsible, use of natural resources. Currently, 23 states have enacted legislation that protects the right to hunt and fish. Though there has been little resistance in several of the states that have recently passed ballot initiatives, others have met considerable resistance and, in one instance, defeat.

History

  • Vermont was the first state to adopt a constitutional provision protecting the rights of its citizens to hunt, trap and fish. The right has been protected in Vermont since 1777.
  • Other states that have amended their constitution to protect hunting, angling and trapping include: Alabama (1996 & 2014), Arkansas (2010), Georgia (2006), Idaho (2012), Indiana (2016), Kansas (2016), Kentucky (2012), Louisiana (2004), Minnesota (1998), Mississippi (2014), Montana (2004), Nebraska (2012), North Carolina (2018), North Dakota (2000), Oklahoma (2008), South Carolina (2010), Tennessee (2010), Texas (2015), Virginia (2000), Wisconsin (2003), and Wyoming (2012).
  • In 2020, the Utah State Legislature passed UT HJR 15 which proposed that the state constitution be amended to protect the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. The measure was approved by the citizens of Utah during the November 2020 election, making Utah the 23rd state to enact a right to hunt and fish constitutional amendment.
  • California and Rhode Island have language in their constitutions protecting the rights of their residents to fish.

Points of Interest

Simply passing a “right to hunt and fish pursuant to all laws and regulations” amendment doesn’t necessarily guarantee any long-term benefits of such an amendment. The language should consider the following:

  • Recognition of an individual right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.
  • Preservation of the state’s power to regulate these activities.
  • Codification of the Public Trust Doctrine.
  • Preemption of local regulation that frustrates comprehensive, statewide wildlife management.
  • Protection of traditional hunting methods such as the use of archery equipment and hunting with dogs.
  • Recognition of hunting and fishing as preferred means of managing wildlife, rather than unproven contraception schemes and unwarranted use of government “sharpshooters”.
  • Clarification that private property rights are not affected or diminished.
  • It should be noted that the state agency should be named only if it is already a constitutionally-recognized entity. If this is not the case, a generic term such as “designated state agency” should be used.

Language

For specific language examples please contact CSF staff.

Moving Forward

While the rights of citizens to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife can be established through a number of different legislative options, it is up to local elected officials, working with the state natural resource agency, to identify the most comprehensive option and advance it in their state. Such legislation is important in securing the heritage and future of sportsmen and women.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact:

Chris Horton, (501) 865-1475; chorton@congressionalsportsmen.org.

Downloads

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North Carolina Right to Hunt, Fish, and Harvest Wildlife Infographic Download File

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Recently, two Montana state representatives have proposed more aggressive legislation addressing the state's gray wolf population. These bills range from the addition of a wolf tag into big game combination tags, to year-round sanctioned harvest without a license, use of snare traps, and private reimbursement of wolf harvest. Currently, the wolf population in Montana sits at 850 wolves, which is 700 over the state’s minimum recovery goal of 150 wolves. Which of the below options for wolf management do you support? (Select all that apply)

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