Why Do Initiatives to Revoke the Right to Hunt Stand a Better Chance Today Than Ever Before?
Updated: Jun 28, 2022
Written by Josh Pollack, Fall 2021 Wildlife Law student under Carol Frampton at Michigan State University College of Law
The right to hunt is not guaranteed and is often reflective of public sentiment and beliefs of a state’s people. The Second Amendment does not guarantee a right to hunt; the Tenth Amendment reserves with states the primary power to regulate wildlife within the state; and under the public trust doctrine, the state holds wildlife in trust to manage for the benefit of the people. Thus, the extent of one’s right to hunt “is the right which the state leaves to him, no more and no less.”
A primary tool for preserving such right within the state is to amend the state constitution to guarantee such right to the citizens. In every state but Delaware, a state constitution is only ratified if the citizens vote for it and pass it. Only twenty-three states provide a constitutional provision that protects the right to hunt.
A constitutional guarantee compels a state to regulate wildlife around the right to hunt. Hunting rights derived solely from legislation, in contrast, are merely a grant of a privilege which effectively allows the state to regulate whether you can hunt to meet the state’s wildlife management goals. Preserving the right to hunt in the state constitution gives the right to hunt a defense against legislative action because to repeal the right to hunt, the state constitution would have to be amended first.
Thus, the right to hunt is highly dependent on public sentiment and if enough people are against hunting, or, if enough people do not support the right to hunt, it could simply disappear. Without the state constitutional guarantee, hunting is merely a privilege granted by the state, subject to political discourse.
A state constitutional right to hunt protects against complacency. Psychologists have studied a phenomenon termed the “meat paradox.” What the meat paradox tells us is that most people enjoy eating meat, but that they do not want to be associated with the suffering of animals. This body of psychology has found that the divergence between one’s behavior and moral judgment causes a level of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance causes one to try and reconcile their actions with their beliefs in one of three ways. The three ways to resolve the conflict between one’s preferred behavior and one’s moral beliefs are: alter behavior to conform to beliefs, alter beliefs to conform to behavior, or compartmentalize and avoid the issue altogether.
For someone who enjoys eating meat but does not like being associated with the harming of an animal, they will have to resolve the conflict in one of three ways by either (1) altering their behavior to eat less meat and conform with their morals of not harming animals; (2) alter their morals through better information to justify their preference for eating meat; or (3) avoid the topic altogether due to the discomfort felt by the tensions of their conflicting behaviors and morals.
The inconsistencies arising between one’s moral belief and their consumptive behavior may pose the next biggest threat in addressing the anti-hunting movement taking place and the possibility of defunding wildlife conservation. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (the Model) is a science-based, principled approach to animal welfare and the perpetual existence of wildlife populations. Under the model’s principles:
(1) and (3): wildlife is a public resource and is managed by the government to ensure long-term sustainable practices are employed through legal mechanisms;
(2) and (4): that markets for game are eliminated and that wildlife can only be killed for legitimate purposes;
and (6): that conservation uses a science-based approach to ensure these goals are met.
By informing people of how wildlife is conserved and monitored, moral judgment may be less susceptible to the deceptive practices engaged in by anti-hunting groups. Given that the right to hunt is derived from voters, those who prefer the act of harvesting their meat, often in opposition to factory production, should be able to justify their behavior and support the right to hunt, otherwise it could easily be lost.
Consider Oregon, a state with no constitutional right to hunt and the current efforts by a group called End Animal Cruelty under initiative petition 13 (IP13), titled the Abuse, Neglect, and Assault Exemption Modifications and Improvement Act. This petition is being circulated for signatures to get on the 2022 general election ballot where the people of Oregon will vote on whether to pass the initiative into Oregon law. The group leading the initiative markets it by stating that, “[i]f enacted, IP13 would remove some of the exemptions to our pre-existing animal cruelty laws that currently allow certain individuals to abuse, neglect, and sexually assault animals without penalty.”
Rhetoric like this is misleading and is likely to push people to accept this initiative without an informed basis since it addresses the moral philosophy of not harming animals without reference to the effects on the right to hunt, or behavior of eating meat. In reality, under the initiative, the intentional killing of an animal would be criminalized, and for people such as cattle ranchers, processing beef would only be permissible when the animal died of natural causes such as old age. According to Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation:
If passed, IP13 would end all hunting, fishing, and trapping, which would immediately impact Oregon’s 940,000 sportsmen and women who participate in the outdoors in support of conservation efforts, food procurement, and tradition. The proposed initiative would also significantly impact the state’s ability to manage and protect its natural resources, wildlife, and public lands. Without sportsmen-generated revenue through license and tag sales, along with excise the tax revenue generated through Pittman-Robertson for sporting-related purchases, ODFW would have their budget drastically cut by almost one half.
If Oregon had a state constitutional right to hunt, initiatives such as IP13 would have a more difficult time misleading or deceiving people because amending the state constitution would need to happen before revoking the right to hunt could pass legislation like this. Activist groups could not simply rely on complacency or emotional appeals that cognitively disguise and obscure the true meaning of the initiative to merely override and revoke the statutory privilege of hunting in Oregon. Only 112,000 (6%) signatures are needed for IP13 to be on the 2022 general elections ballot to reconsider the privilege of hunting in Oregon.
The future of hunting depends on the beliefs of people within the state. To ensure people are making educated decisions, and not emotional reactions to misleading or deceptive anti-hunting campaigns, more should be done to teach people about where their rights to hunt are derived from and the science-based animal welfare approach employed under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation to ensure that long term sustainable practices are employed so that we can maintain our relationship with wildlife in perpetuity. The current locavore movement is doing a good job of this because when people can harvest their own food or be close to where their own food comes from, they will often feel better eating it since they know where it came from and how the animal was treated.
The bottom line is that complacency, without state constitutional protections, may lead to the destruction of rights to hunt without a properly informed public that understands the partnership between hunting and conservation efforts. There are currently 27 states without a state constitutional right to hunt. If states like Oregon had a state constitutional right to hunt, initiatives such as IP 13 would not be able to move forward without first having a debate and vote over whether to amend the state constitution to revoke the right to hunt. Because Oregon does not have a state constitutional right to hunt, however, all that must be done to revoke the privilege of hunting within the state is to simply pass the initiative into legislation by a popular vote.
 See Commonwealth v. Patsone, 79 A. 928, 929 (Penn. 1911) (holding that “[t]he right to hunt game is but a privilege given by the Legislature, and is not an inherent right in the residents of the state.”).  U.S. Const. amend. X.  Geer v. State of Conn., 161 U.S. 519, 529 (1986) (overruled on other grounds by Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 322 (1979)).  See State v. Nergaard, 102 N.W. 899, 901 (Wis. 1905); see also Ex parte Maier, 37 P. 402, 404 (Cal. 1894); Magner v. People, 97 Ill. 320, 333 (1881).  Ballotpedia, Amending State Constitutions, https://ballotpedia.org/Amending_state_constitutions (last visited Nov. 8).  Ballotpedia, Right To Hunt And Fish Constitutional Amendments, https://ballotpedia.org/Right_to_hunt_and_fish_constitutional_amendments (last visited Nov. 8, 2021).  Photo from eRegulations, Take a Kid Hunting.  Festinger, 1957, see also Nora C.G. Benningstad and Jonas R. Kunst, Dissociating Meat From its Animal Origins: A Systemic Literature Review, 147 Appetite 104544 (2019).  Julia Shaw, What the Meat Paradox’ Reveals About Moral Decision Making, www.bbc.com/future/article/20190206-what-the-meat-paradox-reveals-about-moral-decision-making (last visited Nov. 9, 2021).  Id.  Psychology Today, Cognitive Dissonance, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognitive-dissonance (last visited Nov. 8, 2021).  Id.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, www.fws.gov/hunting/north-american-model-of-wildlife-conservation.html (last visited Nov. 16, 2021).  Yes on IP13, Ending Animal Cruelty, www.yesonip13.org (last visited Nov. 8, 2021).  Id.  Yes on IP13, www.yesonip13.org/about (last visited Nov. 8, 2021).  Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Signature Gathering Underway on Oregon Initiative Petition 13 to End All Hunting and Fishing in Oregon, https://congressionalsportsmen.org/the-media-room/news/signature-gathering-underway-on-oregons-initiative-petition-13-to-end-all-h (last visited Nov. 8, 2021).  Or. Const. art. IV, §1, cl. 2(b) (Oregon requires signatures from 6% of voters based on the number of voters in the previous governor election for initiative to be on ballot.).  Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Signature Gathering Underway on Oregon Initiative Petition 13 to End All Hunting and Fishing in Oregon, https://congressionalsportsmen.org/the-media-room/news/signature-gathering-underway-on-oregons-initiative-petition-13-to-end-all-h (last visited Nov. 8, 2021).