Hunters Aim To Amend More State Constitutions Fearing that changing attitudes about their sport could mean more restrictions, they've pushed to put amendments on next week's ballots that would give hunting more protections from legal challenges.
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Hunters Aim To Amend More State Constitutions

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Hunters Aim To Amend More State Constitutions

Hunters Aim To Amend More State Constitutions

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Election season has a particular draw for sportsmen in four states this year. Voters in Arizona, Arkansas, Tennessee and South Carolina will decide if hunting and fishing are a privilege or a constitutional right.

From member station WPLN in Nashville, Blake Farmer reports.

BLAKE FARMER: Retirees Charles Dukes and Roy Duncan spend most afternoons tromping around this wooded archery range near Nashville, taking down deer and turkeys made out of hay bales.

(Soundbite of gunshot)

FARMER: Not quite a kill shot.

Mr. CHARLES DUKES: Problem is as you're getting older, you get shakier and shakier.

Mr. ROY DUNCAN: Not about where you're usually are, aren't you, Charles?

Mr. DUKES: Yup.

FARMER: These two aging sportsmen have been around long enough to watch hunting's decline. At last check, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found 12 and a half million hunters. That's down 11 percent from two decades ago, and a big part of what's prompting these constitutional amendments. As fewer people spend their weekends sitting in duck blinds, Charles Dukes says the remnant hunters have to be proactive. He's already seen changing demographics alter society's view of weapons.

Mr. DUKES: When I grew up, people didn't think much about a person who had a gun. And now, you know, they practically call out the SWAT team. And just as the more urbanized America becomes, the more prevalent that attitude becomes too.

FARMER: The National Rifle Association is behind the pro-hunting amendments. But the coast-to-coast push is about more than people moving off the farm and forgetting their firearms. Outdoorsmen feel anti-hunting groups, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have made inroads in some parts of the U.S.

Ducks Unlimited spokesman Tony Dolle says hunters want to protect their pastime while they still can.

Mr. TONY DOLLE (Spokesman, Ducks Unlimited): I think this is a good way to do that to ensure that not only our abilities and rights to hunt and fish, but the hunting heritage is continued forever.

State Representative JOHNNIE TURNER (Tennessee General Assembly): We don't have a problem. It's almost as if it's not broke, don't fix it.

FARMER: That's Johnnie Turner. She was the lone no vote when the Tennessee legislature approved putting a constitutional amendment on this year's ballot. Even Turner made sure to say she has nothing against hunting or fishing. After all, they represent a $2.4 billion industry here.

But there's a shared feeling among opponents that these amendments are a solution in search of a problem.

Peter Appel is a law professor at the University of Georgia, which is one of the 10 states that already has the right to hunt in its constitution. He says the amendments could spawn more challenges to hunting regulations.

Professor PETER APPEL (Law, University of Georgia): To the extent that it gives people more of an opportunity to go into court and to second guess what their legislature or their executive branch is doing, I don't think that it's a wise exercise of amending the Constitution.

FARMER: To Appel, constitutions are for more fundamental rights. PETA makes the same point more sarcastically, asking what's next. Shopping? Golf?

True, hunting is now more recreation than putting food on the table, but Kenny Parker isn't sighting in his crossbow solely for sport. Parker's unemployed.

Mr. KENNY PARKER: Things are tight, bro. Things are tight. So, yeah, I'm trying to make sure I have meat for the winter.

FARMER: Seriously?

Mr. PARKER: Seriously. I'm shooting straight from the hip with you.

FARMER: Parker will be voting yes on Tennessee's amendment, and he'll almost certainly be in the majority. The pro-hunting protections have passed in every state to consider them.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

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