Should You Have a Constitutional Right to Shoot a Pheasant?

You may have no guaranteed right to marry, vote or work, but several states are going all in on animal-killing constitutional amendments.

An avid hunting family in Kansas displays their weapons collection. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sep 28, 2012· 2 MIN READ

Of all people, perhaps, it makes sense that hunters know the feeling of something unseen stalking them with dubious intent.

Armed humans trailing beasts are in tune with that animal sense that—though they can’t quite pinpoint it—something is wrong out there, and they should react… somehow.

That reaction in recent years has often been for hunters to pass state constitutional amendments guaranteeing them the right to hunt, fish and trap, in response to some vaguely perceived (nonexistent?) threat from radical animal rights groups.

MORE: Like Pornography, Should Hunting Magazines be Adult-Only?

This year is no different. In November, voters in Wyoming, Idaho, Kentucky and Nebraska will go to the polls to decide on whether to amend their states’ founding documents to include the fundamental right to slay whitetail from now until the world endeth.

“This wasn’t for me or you today, or the sportsmen of today, it’s for three or four generations down the road,” a Wyoming legislator told the Billings Gazette. “It’s for the future of the kids of the state.”

The comment reflects the implicit acknowledgement by amendment propoents that—though there is no threat to hunting rights—there is an odd need to protect such rights from future threats.

Commentary from South Carolina in 2010, when a similar amendment was up for vote, speaks to an ominous reaction against no real threat that echoes many of the anti-voter fraud protection measures in courts today.

In short: Legislation protecting against nothing specific beyond the fuzzy feeling there might be something out there, someday…

“Even supporters say they see no immediate threat to the right to hunt and fish,” the Rock Hill Herald wrote about the South Carolina effort. “But they have concerns about potential attacks from animal-rights advocates and the spread of urban areas into hunting habitat.”

Speaking against the Nebraska push, one state senator argued that adopting an amendment would “trivialize the constitution,” the Omaha World Herald writes.

“It is absolutely unnecessary,” the senator said. “Hunting and fishing are not threatened in Nebraska.”

The amendment’s proponents said that, sure there is no threat now, but there are fringe groups out there with lots of money and there’s a Humane Society office in Nebraska. Spooky, right? “Time will tell,” what they might do, an Omaha proponent says... (the Humane Society said it would take no position on the measure).

But to be clear, this actually isn’t a totally new thing. Thirteen states currently have some sort of constitutional amendment guaranteeing hunting rights, though some of those are kind of suspect in the context of safeguarding against rabid animal protectionists.

Vermont’s, for instance, was written in 1777.

But most of the others are from the late 1990s or later.

Hunting has also been politicized in this year’s presidential race, with Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan touting his long history as a hunter to help solidify support from certain segments of voters.

Minnesota, Ryan’s home state, has a constitutional amendment affirming hunting and fishing as a protected part of the state’s heritage.

In Nebraska, at least one state legislator seemed to get the tone right last year when she initially proposed her own state constitutional amendment to protect other forms of non-threatened recreation—including golfing, napping, swimming and watching football.

The proposal was an antic meant to highlight the lack of threat to several sorts of things that are not protected by the state constitution.

But even then, when the amendment was being debated for inclusion on the November ballot, you could just feel the fear coming off hunting advocates.

“[Hunting]’s not under assault here yet,” a state senator told the AP last year. “But make sure you add the ‘yet,’ because it surely will come.”

Which, if any, of these individual liberties do think are more important than guaranteeing hunter rights? 1) Marriage equality. 2) Voting rights. 3) Equal employment opportunity. 4) None. Make your opinion count in the poll above.