A pro-hunting amendment to the state Constitution should be a slam dunk in Mississippi, a fiery-red state with hunting roots that run generations deep.
But the National Rifle Association isn’t taking any chances with the Nov. 4 vote on the Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment.
“This is a priority for the NRA and the hunting world nationwide,” NRA spokesman Lacey Biles said. “Years down the road, even a hunter-friendly state might turn the other way. It might be 20 years down the road, it might be 50. That’s the whole point of a constitutional amendment, to protect the future, and a hunting heritage that is rich in Mississippi currently, we want that to be enshrined for generations to come.”
The NRA, he said, takes the campaign directly to its members and tries to reach nonmembers through bumper stickers and flyers, much like a campaign for public office.
“We’ll be doing quite a bit,” he said. “It’s a very important initiative for us.”
He said among the NRA’s tenets is the idea “hunting is a preferred means of wildlife management.”
The amendment won’t affect the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’s ability to license and regulate hunting, its spokesman Jim Walker said. And Mississippi isn’t alone. Seventeen states have right-to-hunt amendments. The earliest was Vermont. It added one in 1777.
Animal-rights activists say they aren’t planning any particular campaign in Mississippi.
“We educate people all over the world about the problems with hunting,” said Ashley Byrne of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has long opposed hunting in general. “The fact is that it is cruel and unnecessary and it breeds insensitivity toward suffering of others, it damages ecosystems and disturbs animal populations.”
PETA and the National Council of State Legislatures agree hunting is on the decline. That, said Byrne, has hunters nervous.
“Hunters are worried because hunters know the popularity of hunting is plummeting,” she said. “The number of hunters is dropping every year. Most younger people prefer environmentally sound and non-consumptive activities to enjoy the outdoors — wildlife photography, hiking and camping.”
The council says there is some competition between hunters and others.
“Sportsmen in many states increasingly feel as if they are the ones outside the duck blind, and they are turning to state constitutions to ensure their hallowed pastime will continue in perpetuity,” the council writes on its website. “Increasing urbanization, decreased habitat, declining numbers of sportsmen, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the quest to assert the right to hunt and fish in a state’s most basic and difficult-to-amend document. On land that has been traditionally open to sportsmen, development of farmland and forests, along with pressure from other recreational groups such as hikers and off-road vehicles, is putting the pinch on the available land for harvesting game and fish.”
WFP’s Walker said a few years back, hunting was in a bit of a tailspin.
“Single-family households play a big part in that,” he said. “Competition from, believe it or not, video games and other outdoor sports. People not having a place to hunt, losing land leases, things like that. Young people not getting into the game.”
Mississippi, he said, saw that and actively began recruiting hunters and hunting bounced back.
“We recognized several years ago that if we are going to keep our numbers strong, we’re going to have to go after the youth,” he said. “In Mississippi, our numbers are pretty strong. Our hunting classes are full. Our youth hunts are sold out.”
He said the department has reached out to women, minorities and young people because hunting is important to its conservation program. For example, he said, without hunting, the deer population would be out of control.
“If it isn’t controlled, the population suffers,” he said. “There’s not enough food, there’s not enough land.”
But, he said, it’s OK that people hunt for enjoyment and food also.
“I like the smell of gunpowder,” he said.