JACKSON — Van Allen has been processing deer meat and selling gear to hunters and anglers for 20 years in Mississippi and other parts of the South. Like many outdoors enthusiasts, he thinks hunting and fishing are birthrights that ought to be constitutionally protected.
“As far as I am concerned anything that protects first our right to bear arms and second our right to hunt is a pretty good thing,” Allen said.
Mississippians will get the chance to decide whether hunting and fishing should be enshrined as constitutional rights on Nov. 4. The issue was placed on the ballot at the urging of hunting groups and lawmakers concerned about animal rights groups’ campaigns in other parts of the country against hunting game.
While Mississippi animal rights groups say there is no assault underway on hunting and fishing, some sportsmen and lawmakers aren’t so sure and are backing the ballot initiative.
“That could be a pretty good protection,” said Allen, whose deer meat processing business opened in Brandon, Mississippi, in 1992. He opened a sporting goods business in Cullman, Alabama in 1997.
It will take a majority vote to put the matter into the Mississippi Constitution.
“We’re hoping to send a message to the rest of the country that we are passionate about our hunting and fishing. We don’t want anybody dabbling with our sportsmen’s way of life,” said Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, lead sponsor of the proposal.
Photographer and hunter Chris Todd of Ridgeland sees no harm in the hunting rights amendment.
“There’s nobody in the South who’s going to take away the hunting rights of a fellow Southerner. The West is the same way,” said Todd. “I am sure anybody who is a hunter never realized it wasn’t in the constitution and were not likely losing sleep at night.”
Todd, 57, said he primarily hunts deer. But dove, squirrels and rabbits also have drawn his interest.
He said many animal rights groups don’t understand that hunting is as much a population control issue as it is a sport.
“They don’t have a clue about what it takes to manage a herd of deer. If you don’t have a controlled harvest, there would be deer all over the place,” Todd said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the constitutions of 17 states guarantee the right to hunt and fish.
Vermont’s language dates to 1777, while the rest — in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have been adopted since 1996.
California and Rhode Island have guarantees on the right to fish, but not to hunt.
Lydia Sattler, Mississippi director of Humane Society of the United States, said the organization is not challenging the Mississippi rights proposal.
“We don’t have any reason to oppose (it) because no one is trying to take that away. No one is trying to stop hunting. Any fear that someone is trying to stop hunting is ludicrous,” Sattler said.
Sattler said most of the hunting practices that the Humane Society opposes — such as putting deer in small enclosures to be killed — are also opposed by most hunters.
“There is no reason to create a battle where there is no battle. We really wish the Legislature would address the huge problem with intentional cruelty to animals where there truly is a problem,” Sattler said.
Ashley Byrne, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in New York, said the organization considers such ballot initiatives frivolous.
“We consider these and similar amendments an effort to make political statements for political interest groups,” Byrne said. “If the amendment doesn’t pass, people will be able to hunt and fish as they do now.”
Right-to-hunt amendments subject to existing laws and regulations are backed by a loose nationwide alliance of hunting and gun advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.
Jim Walker, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, which supports the proposed amendment, said hunting and fishing have a major economic impact in Mississippi.
“Hunters and fishermen are paying their own way from the licensing fees to fees they pay to buy their equipment. We don’t get any general-fund money,” Walker said. “Hunting and fishing is a huge economic engine in this state — from the guys who sell you the four-wheel-drive truck to the guy who sells you sausage and biscuit in the morning. Everybody loves to hunt and fish.”
The proposal wouldn’t change the agency’s ability to regulate hunting and fishing or the Legislature’s ability to pass hunting and fishing laws. It wouldn’t affect laws regarding trespass, property rights, levee maintenance or regulation of commercial activities.
Mississippi issued almost half a million hunting/fishing licenses in 2013.