For years, the anti-hunting movement was little more than a fringe element that served as a running joke among hunters. Animal rights activists were socially-inept members of the counterculture—old ladies with too many cats, wayward teens looking for some sort of cause, and others who couldn’t grasp the hypocrisy of their beliefs.
At the time, few hunters paid much attention to them and had little fear that hunting was at risk because hunter numbers were at all-time highs and the non-hunting public gave the sport little thought. The media, however, gobbled up the various publicity stunts by animal rights organizations and the anti-hunting movement has since gone mainstream. What was once little more than a radical fringe movement has turned into one of the most powerful political machines in the country with one major goal, to end hunting as we know it. They are succeeding one small step at a time.
“Things really changed in the anti-hunting movement in 2004 when the Fund for Animals merged with the Humane Society,” said Doug Jeanneret, vice-president of marketing for the United States Sportsmen’s Alliance, the nation’s leading hunter advocacy organization.
The new group had combined revenue at the time of nearly $68 million and assets of almost $100 million. In 2008 alone, various anti-hunting organizations will have raised an incredible $300 million from millions of Americans. The money is used to pay for media campaigns, funding for legal teams and to put anti-hunting initiatives on state ballots. In essence, the movement changed from a publicity machine that sought to paint hunters in a negative image to a formidable legal force that took the fight directly to the courtrooms and even to voting machines through those ballot initiatives, one of their favorite tools.
Ballot initiatives, which put specific issues before voters on election day, aren’t a new tool for animal rights groups. They’ve been a successful part of the anti-hunting movement since 1990 when California voters approved a ban on mountain lion hunting. However, they have turned into an effective way to shut down various types of hunting since. Dozens of hunting and trapping-related initiatives have been put up for a popular vote and many have succeeded in robbing sportsmen of their freedoms. Bears hunters in Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts and Colorado, for example, lost the ability to hunt using methods like bait and hounds; and trapping was banned in Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts and parts of Arizona. Perhaps the most damaging ballot initiative took place in Michigan when voters rejected a proposal that would have allowed dove hunting. The measure was defeated by a huge majority, largely because the HSUS outspent sportsmen’s groups, said Jeanneret.
“It often comes down to money,” he explained. “The HSUS spent millions on TV ads and newspaper ads that portrayed hunters and hunting in a negative way.”
“So what,” you say? Jeanneret said the biggest mistake hunters make is not supporting one another. He hears sportsmen suggest that because they don’t like the idea of hunting bears or hunting over bait, they shouldn’t have to back hunters who choose those methods. That sets a dangerous precedent and one that plays right into the agenda of the animal rights groups.
“Hunters have to stick together when it comes to these issues. They want to divide us,” said Jeanneret. “Anti-hunters aren’t going to try to ban all hunting in a single ballot initiative or courtroom battle. Instead, they want to chip away at what seems like the easiest targets. That’s why they go after hunting methods or species that aren’t the most popular.”
Their goal, however, is to put an end to all hunting, even if that seems like an impossible one. They have the means and they certainly have determination. The most important question is, do hunters have the fight in them to protect the sport they love so much?
For more information on the efforts of anti-hunting groups, visit www.ussportsmen.org, the web site for the United States Sportsmen’s Alliance.