For being an activity that only 6% of Americans partake in, hunting is one of America’s most important regulatory segments. Pulling in 38.3 billion dollars in revenue, hunting and fishing drive a large part of the American economy and way of life. With news stories like Cecil the lion breaking last year, public attention has been brought back to hunting and related issues.
History of Hunting and Regulations
The human race has used hunting as a way to sustain ourselves and our communities throughout time. After the expansion west in the United States, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, black bears and whitetail deer all but disappeared due to market-hunting and habitat loss. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the pioneers in establishing hunting regulations and habitat conservation groups. Modern day hunting has become a sport/food hybrid. Most people who hunt do not do so out of necessity and are in it more for the challenge, but also many do consume the animal they kill. Only a small amount of the population (126,000 animal trophies a year) who participates in “trophy” hunting – killing wild animals for their body parts, such as head and hide, for display but not primarily for food or sustenance.
The history of regulations for hunting are as follows: The first law protecting wildlife was proposed in 1900. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act became law, making it unlawful to take, possess, buy, sell, or barter any migratory bird, including feathers, parts, nests, or eggs. The first “permit” was introduced in 1938, with the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act requiring all waterfowl hunters aged 16 and over to possess a “Duck Stamp.” The following year, the Lacey Act was expanded to prohibit foreign commerce in illegally taken wildlife. The Bald Eagle Protection Act became law, prohibiting a variety of activities involving the species, including import, export, take, sell, purchase, or barter in 1940. In 1969, the Endangered Species Conservation Act prohibited the importation into the US of species “threatened with extinction worldwide”. This Act specifically allowed the animals to be imported for zoological and scientific purposes. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, many different acts, treaties and cases before the Supreme Court made their way to become the hunting and animal regulations we see today.
This infographic from the National Shooting Sports Foundation details the current landscape of hunting in the United States
Throughout the last two centuries regulations for wildlife have been on the rise. This partially has to do with increasing human population, thus increasing the hunting population while at the same time decreasing wildlife habitat. Regulations are in place today to ensure that hunting is safe both for the hunters and the hunted population as a whole. Currently, there are over 2500 bills introduced that have to do with “hunting”, let’s take a look a few of them.
First, there are currently seven states that have legislation to allow “pink blaze” to be an officially accepted hunting color.
There have been some negative reactions to the idea of blaze pink. Some women oppose the bills, calling them sexist, or seeing them as a cynical and insulting ploy to increase female interest in the sport.
Taking a different approach to widening participation in the sport, New York introduced A08358 in order to lower the age for universal hunting licenses from 14 years old to 12 years old. This bill allows the state to open up hunting to more people, “We rely on hunters to help us meet our science-based population management goals, and these new regulations will help us explore alternative season structures that will advance improved population management,” said Commissioner Seggos. The US introduced the SHARE Act (Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement) to expand access to, and opportunities for, hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting.
There are other bills that have to do with the methods of hunting: crossbows, new regulations for rifles, allowing semiautomatic firearms and air-or gas-powered rifles, allowing suppressors through “Hunting Freedom Acts” and body gripping traps. Pennsylvania Representative Matt Gabler’s bill for semiautomatic firearms and air-or-gas powered rifles was “the NRA’s top legislative priority in our state and the most significant pro-gun legislation passed by the General Assembly this session.” In regards to suppressors, New Hampshire Rep. John Burt stated “The main reason I put HB 500 in was to protect hunters hearing. There are several good side effects that have been brought up from others that support HB 500. Reduces gunshot noise for the homes nearby, reduces the high pitch noise which causes hear loss and many others benefits.”
Florida proposed a bill, HB1072, which would give the Florida Department of Environmental Protection the ability to allow hunting, cattle grazing, timber farming and RV camping in Florida’s parks and preserves. Virginia proposed a bill to allow a licensed hunter or trapper to manufacture and sell products made from wildlife that they legally harvested.
In Alabama, they proposed HB43 which would have authorized the taking of whitetail deer or feral swine by means of bait. There are many states that proposed legislation pertaining to the use of bait with many different animals: bear, turkeys, bobcats, wolves, armadillos and birds.
There are also laws aimed at making it a more fair “sport” to the animals. This includes giving rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people who injure or kill game or other protected species along with requiring the convicted person to forfeit the amount of the reward to the state. New Jersey proposed a law declaring the horseshoe crab the state arthropod and NY proposed A8218 in hopes of helping save the endangered, life saving crab.
There are serious repercussions for illegally hunting as well. West Virginia proposed a bill outlining the penalties for shooting a deer without the correct permit. In Indiana, they proposed a bill relating to the harvesting penalties for turtles. Maine introduced a bill outline acts that are not allowed when it comes to threatened or endangered species. South Carolina introduced a bill to provide penalties for violations in the new law disallowing residents to take or possess certain Hammerhead Sharks. It requires that once caught, these sharks must be released and remain in the water at all times. This means no selfies with the sharks, you could be convicted of a misdemeanor.
Michigan proposed SB1187 which many fear would reauthorize wolf hunting, after the state defeated PA 520 (or SB1350) in 2014. This bill allowed for establishing wolf hunting seasons and designated the wolf as a game animal. New Jersey introduced two bills, S2702 and SR48, that attempt to end the legal hunting of black bears and oppose any expansion of the legal bear hunting season and calls for it to be restricted to the original six-day hunt.
It is interesting to see where the different legislation lies. There are so many different areas of hunting to regulate; which is the best color to hunt in? How many animals can be taken? Where can they be taken from? How long can you hunt? What is the appropriate level for “vermin” control? Does a bear count as a vermin? What type of tool can you use to hunt? Where are you allowed to put traps? Which animals are worth protecting?
Where do you think laws have gone too far and what areas still need more work?