For decades, NRA has battled to overturn laws denying the right to self-defense. The “fight or flight” mechanism is embedded in our DNA. Furthermore, I believe it is my ethical obligation to protect myself and my loved ones from harm. It is wrong for the government to deny me the means to fulfill this obligation.
To date, NRA has been successful in this battle. For instance, there are now 40 states that recognize the right to carry concealed firearms for self-defense. After Wisconsin’s resounding elections last November, it’s likely that it will become the 41st state later this year.
Most hunting laws that NRA seeks to repeal throughout the country can be described as unreasonable or unnecessary, but not as keeping us from complying with our ethical code. There is one glaring exception and that is the widespread existence of laws that bar hunters from using dogs to recover wounded game. It is unquestioned that hunters are obligated to do everything within their power to recover game animals that they have shot or arrowed. Of course, this should include the use of the best available tool—a dog’s nose. For states to deny us this is beyond comprehension, but many do.
I learned of the problem while hunting deer with a friend in northwest Kansas. His story truly disturbed me. He is one of the most dedicated and hardworking hunters I know. Having relentlessly pursued the same monster buck for two years, he finally achieved what he was sure was success when he arrowed the deer. All the evidence on the ground confirmed what he had seen. His arrow had found the “boiler room.”
His confidence began to waver when he followed the blood trail to the perimeter of what can only be described as one of the most vast and daunting thickets I have ever seen. As he showed it to me, I was sure that sunlight had never touched the ground in that impenetrable tangle of vegetation. It defined “safe haven.”
He did the right thing and stopped his pursuit. He had a pair of Jack Russell terriers at home who lived to hunt small game and he knew they’d adapt to the new task, go in, find his buck and make a racket, allowing him to machete his way to them and his deer. I’ve seen these little tracking machines do their blood trailing work in Africa, where they are the only game in town for the professional hunters, also known as guides.
After retrieving his two aces in the hole, he decided to stop at the local convenience store for a bite to eat before heading back out to the thicket. His dogs waited patiently in the bed of his truck. The local game warden happened by and asked my friend what he was doing taking his dogs out in the middle of deer season with his bow in tow. He described his predicament to the man he had known for years. To his utter shock, he listened to the agent threaten him with a citation and a suspended hunting license if he proceeded with his plans. He had no idea that doing the right thing—the ethical thing—was illegal in his home state.
Understandably, he pondered his options. It was what he considered a choice between civil disobedience and losing the license that allowed him to do what he loves or leaving a majestic animal to rot in the field. However painful, he took his dogs home and spent the next two days searching the thicket. Blood was nearly impossible to find in the vegetative chaos. During the ordeal, he might have fought his way to within a foot or two of the dead buck and never known it. He would have had to literally stumble over it in order to find it.
The lasting anger was still evident as he finished telling his story. I sparked it all when I asked him to tell me of any hunting laws that he thought should be changed. It’s a question I ask everyone I hunt with because it helps NRA do the lobbying work our members expect of us.
As is often the case with other bad laws in the hunting realm, prohibitions against the use of tracking dogs exist because the state fears that hunters will abuse the option if it is available. It’s much easier to ban the use of all dogs for any purpose while hunting big game than to wonder whether some law-breaker might be hunting a perfectly healthy animal with his dogs. Such bans make things easier for government agents but they certainly don’t make things right. The kind of mindset that leads to these policies is appalling.
For those untrusting government officials who believe hunters simply cannot help themselves when it comes to violating the letter of the law, there is an answer short of total prohibition. I’m the last one to advocate more red tape but, in certain cases, it is better than the alternative.
A state like Kansas could establish a phone number and website that hunters could use to report that there is a wounded animal in the field and that dogs are going to be employed to find it. If hunters who haven’t filed a report are found using dogs in the field, the failure could be used as a portion of the evidence indicating illegal hunting. If a particular hunter regularly reports into the hotline, wardens can investigate the situation to ensure the system is not being used as an excuse for illegal hunting.
Of course, government displaying a little trust in the people it should consider conservation heroes would be preferred over such a system, but it’s unfortunately not as common as it should be.
Some states that allow the use of tracking dogs require hunters to use certified trackers who usually do their work for a fee. While better than no allowance, this sort of requirement is not justified. Hunters should be able to use their own dogs if they believe they can help in the search. I’m not advocating putting certified trackers out of business. There are enough of us who don’t have dogs of our own to keep them busy. Even those with dogs would often be smart to voluntarily spend the money for the professionals. Deersearch.org has a group of volunteer handlers who help find wounded deer with special tracking dogs.
The use of leashes is also required in many of the states that permit tracking dogs. This is another unjustified mandate. Hunters should be free to choose the best approach for their circumstances. A leash may be the best way to go in most instances but a requirement would have made things very difficult for my friend in Kansas if he had been able to take his dogs into the thicket.
There are many unnecessary and unreasonable hunting laws that need to be changed, but those that prevent hunters from fulfilling their ethical duty—like using dogs to recover wounded game—are the most egregious. Rest assured, NRA-ILA will lead the effort to repeal them.