Hot Tracks and Cold Trails

Hunter's Horn, April 2012HUNTER’S HORN – During the first couple of months of this year, the fox hunters in the Commonwealth of Virginia had to rally together to defeat two proposals that were introduced into their state legislatures. I would like to report on this in hopes
that it might help folks in other states who will certainly have their hunting rights threatened if they are not aware of what is going on in their state capitals.

Back in early January, two Virginia state legislative members introduced bills that would effectively close the foxhound training preserves by making it a class 1 misdemeanor to operate, construct or use such a preserve.

The state senator and House of Delegates member who introduced these bills were liberal Democrats from Fairfax County, which is in northern Virginia near Washington, DC.

It was quite obvious from the beginning that these gentlemen had strong backing from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and that these bills had been in the planning stages for quite some time. Needless to say, several groups of hunters and trappers in the State of Virginia began to organize to fight these bills in Richmond when they were scheduled for debate in their respective committees. Both bills were assigned to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees and dates were soon established for their consideration.

As time passed, the HSUS began their onslaught against the training preserves by having articles printed in several state newspapers, including the Richmond, Roanoke and Charlottesville papers just to name a few. In addition to this, some of the TV stations in major markets also did reports that were backed by the HSUS. As one could probably imagine, these articles and reports were not based on fact. One report even showed a staged event in another state where several hounds with numbers on them were shown fighting a coyote. As anyone in Virginia knows, it is illegal to have coyotes in the training preserves. Also, the HSUS supporters had flyers printed and posted in several areas. These were also based on falsehoods and innuendo.

While the antis were doing their thing, the hunters and their supporters were fighting back. The legislative representatives were bombarded with phone calls by angry citizens who expressed their displeasure with the bills that were up for consideration and also the way the antis and their supporters were offering false information in order to gain their support. There were petitions circulated that garnered many signatures of folks who didn’t even hunt with hounds. They were concerned with the way the HSUS was trying to get the laws changed and knew that, if they were allowed to succeed, the type of hunting or fishing that they enjoyed would be fair game in the future.

As the date for consideration of the bill in the House of Delegates grew closer, there was a call for hunters to meet in Richmond on the day of the debate. Jim Hackett, Chairman of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, was very forceful in his attempts to get hunters on the same page and to get them to commit to coming to Richmond to show the delegates how many folks were opposed to this bill.

When the day for the bill to be considered by the Agriculture and Natural Resources arrived, over 100 hunters showed up dressed in their Sunday best and with blaze orange caps on. This large turn out was certainly one of the reasons that the bill was headed nowhere. It was tabled until the 2013 legislative session. While the hunters would have rather seen it voted down, this was certainly considered a victory.

While folks were happy with the outcome of the results in the House of Delegates, there was still a lot of work to be done as the Senate still had to consider their bill. Some folks felt that the Senate would be a tougher fight, so folks began to gear up for what ever they needed to do to sway the members of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Again the phone lines heated up and the petition drives began as the hunters redoubled their efforts to get the Senators attention. When the day arrived for the Senate committee to consider this bill, the hunters were there in force and arrived early. In fact, they completely filled the room where the committee was to hear the bill. When the time came to start the proceedings, the hunters were asked to leave because the antis didn’t have a place to present there arguments for the bill.

During the hearing, several hunters and representatives addressed the Senators. Two of them included Davy Hackett and Michele Taylor. Roy Neighbors represented the Virginiabased dog food companies, Steve Colvin spoke on behalf of the trappers in Virginia and Kirby Burch, who is a professional lobbyist, also spoke out against the bill.

Surprisingly, a member of the HSUS actually spoke against the passage of the bill. Lisa Friday had been taken to a fox preserve and saw for herself that her fellow HSUS members had not been giving the Senators correct information on what the preserves are actually intended for.

After everyone had spoken their piece, some of the senators spoke out against the bill. Some of the senators had their staffs do their own investigations and they were appalled that the antis had tried to sway them with lies about what actually went on at the training preserves. One senator went as far as to admonish the Attorney General’s Office as they had come out in favor of the bill and had not even done their own investigation to see if the HSUS folks were telling the truth.

As was the case with the House of Delegates’ bill, this one was also tabled until 2013. While it is considered a victory for the fox preserve supporters, the battle will be resumed again next year.   The results of this battle that hunters waged in Virginia shows you just what can be done when groups bind together for a common cause, even if the enemy is a $100,000,000 a year giant.

Folks in Virginia are fortunate to have articulate and intelligent hunters like Stephanie Morton, Michele Taylor and Davy and Jennifer Hackett who are not afraid to work hard and try to bring folks together for a common cause.  Also, the folks in Virginia are lucky to have Jim Hackett and Kirby Burch behind them. These fellows are seasoned veterans when it comes to working their way through the legislative process and were invaluable in keeping these two bills from becoming law.

Hunters, if you think that you are immune to this type of thing happening in your state, think again. Take a look at what the hunters have been doing in North Carolina and Oklahoma over the past several years and you will see that it takes a lot of work and togetherness to keep the legislative process working for you instead of against you. If you think you need to develop a game plan in your state, check with the folks in these two states. They can give you valuable advice because they have been involved in the law making process for several years and have the experience and knowledge to point you in the right direction.

By Bill McGee