Can There Be a Right to Hunt?

By Peter Muller

Notwithstanding the many attempts of several states to enact “Right to Hunt” laws – or even to make “Right to Hunt” an amendment to the state constitution — there are good logical reasons to argue that there is no reasonable way in which this can be done.  Basic to this is the legal meaning of the word “Right.”

Photo: My Big Redneck Family: The Talk 

A Right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth.

A Privilege is a special entitlement granted by the state to a restricted group on a conditional basis.

Privileges can be revoked in certain circumstances. Rights cannot be revoked.
It’s best to illustrate this with examples:

1. If you want to worship this weekend at your house of worship where do apply for your license?
2. If you want to drive a car in your state where do apply for your license?
3. If you want to publish a newspaper where do you apply for a license?
4. If you want to sell beer in your restaurant where do you apply for your license?

The answer to questions 1) and 3) is that you do not need a license to do the activities because those activities are rights. The government neither gives you permission to engage in that activity nor can the government enjoin you from engaging in that activity, or charge you a fee, or even require that you register with an agency for engaging in that activity.

For question 2) the answer is that you go to your state’s motor-vehicle department; apply for a driver’s license; pass a test; drive responsibly and if you fail to drive responsibly in the state’s judgment your license can be revoked.

For question 4) the answer is you go to the state alcoholic beverage control board; apply for a license; they will review your credentials and may or may not issue you a permit to sell beer in your restaurant. If you do get a license but you subsequently fail to meet some of their rules for selling beer in a restaurant, your license may be revoked.

In legal terms, hunting is clearly a privilege not a right. A hunter must apply for a hunting license at the state’s agency that manages the state’s wildlife (variously called “DNR”,”DEC”, “DEP” or something similar) after taking a “hunting safety course” and passing a test. He must observe the seasons set by the agency and observe the bag-limits specified by the agency for the various species. If he fails to do so his license may be revoked or suspended.

To make hunting a “right” would mean, as long as we use language consistently, that:

1. A person does not need a license to hunt.
2. A person does not need to observe any seasons or bag-limits.
Anyone could just buy a box of shells and go outside and start shooting away anytime. This would obviously not suit anybody — especially the game agencies that now would have no source of revenue since there would be no need to have a hunting license. Nor would they be able to increase the populations of “game” animals.

These proposed “right to hunt” laws are a misuse of the word “right.” If we examine the actual laws being proposed, we see that they are really proposing nothing new. It is simply a continuation of the hunting privilege that exists today.

For example the Florida law provides:

The Legislature recognizes that hunting, fishing, and the taking of game are a valued part of the cultural heritage of Florida and should be forever preserved for Floridians. The Legislature further recognizes that these activities play an important part in the state’s economy and in the conservation, preservation, and management of the state’s natural areas and resources. Therefore, the Legislature intends that the citizens of Florida have a right to hunt, fish, and take game, subject to the regulations and restrictions prescribed by general law and by s. 9, Art. IV of the State Constitution.   [Emphasis added]

Since the “right” is subject to legislations, regulations and restrictions it is not a right but a privilege which is misnamed a “right” to make hunters feel better. These laws or amendments are really nothing more than obfuscation of legal terms.

If these laws have no substantive “payload” why are they proposed at all? They are what people in the business of commenting on legislative action call “feel-good laws.” A “feel-good law” is a bill that a legislator introduces to accommodate the demand of some of his constituents.  It is usually not intended to be acted on seriously by the legislative body – or if it is passed into law—it has no substantive effect. A similar hypothetical feel good law would permit all residents to go to a public beach during its hours of operation.

The bill doesn’t add anything substantive to what is already permitted (or prohibited) but it does make a segment of the voting constituency feel better. Those of us who seek to get legislation enacted in the area of animal protection, unfortunately, often see our proposed bills negotiated down to “feel good” but “do nothing” legislation. One example was our effort to enact a law in New York State that would outlaw canned hunt operations. After passing through countless committees in the two legislative bodies it came out as “prohibiting the operation of canned hunt facilities on less than 13 acres of land.”  There were no canned hunt facilities on less than 13 acres of land – so the law, as enacted, did nothing to outlaw any existing facilities nor  place any realistic restrictions on any proposed canned hunt facility in the future..  But the legislators that sponsored this law could point to it with pride in their next election campaign when challenged about what they had done to promote animal protection.

These “Right to Hunt” Laws are mostly feel good laws that give the legislative sponsors and supporter bragging rights in their next election campaigns.  They can also serve to get the redneck-vote out when presented as a ballot issue. If a certain segment of voters normally doesn’t show up to vote on election day, but their vote is needed by some candidates, then it is common practice to put a feel-good measure on the ballot as a ballot issue on which the voters will decide – that usually brings folks out.

One word of caution – sometimes these “feel good laws” are bundled with some other provisions that would never pass on their own but slip by unnoticed by the general voting  public or the legislators’ staff when embedded in a feel-good law.

These additional embedded add-ons are frequently pernicious to the welfare of wildlife and not trivial and meaningless as is the “right to hunt provision” itself. So, in those cases there is a reason to actively oppose the measure. In some states, notably Alabama, the “Right to Hunt” law contained a clause that most thinking people would reject as being downright insane. It specifies among other things:

Hunting by the public and fishing by the public shall be the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

Should legislators impose a “preferred” means on a method that should be an objective scientific decision?

What if they enacted a law stating?

Chemotherapy shall be the preferred means of treating cancer

Does it make sense to restrict objective decisions by scientists to certain narrow options – especially if those options are known to be largely worthless, or superseded by a different mode?

Evidently the boll weevils (conservative southern Democrats) of the Alabama legislature think so. We don’t!


Contact Us

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561