Debate flares up over selling locations of big game animals; useful idiots help anti-hunters
By JIM MATTHEWS
Hunters have met the enemy and he is us.
A bill was introduced into the Montana legislature on Jan. 25 that would outlaw the selling of locations of big game animals on public land, and the relatively new, left-leaning group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is asking its members to support the legislation, according to a post on its website. Interestingly enough, the bill does not apply to licensed guides, outfitters, or private landowners.
Senate Bill 127 was introduced by state Senator Jill Cohenour, a Democrat from Helena, after her husband Joe said he discovered a Utah man advertising a “professional report” that offered GPS coordinates for specific elk pictured in the report. He believed the service was unethical because it fostered a mentality of selling wildlife to the highest bidder, according to BHA.
“Hunting is about getting out and enjoying yourself, it’s not just about killing,” said Joe Cohenour in his self-righteous testimony before the Senate Fish and Game Committee.
BHA also reports that the bill is being supported by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the Montana Wildlife Federation, and the Montana Bowhunters Association.
The Montana Wildlife Federation posted a story on the bill with the sanctimonious headline that read:
Montana’s Wildlife Isn’t for Sale
Preserving Montana’s Fair Chase Heritage
The story went on to say, “Simply put, this bill means that private individuals will no longer be able to profit by selling the location of trophy wildlife to the highest bidder.”
Wait, isn’t that exactly what guides do. Oh, never mind, they are exempt from the legislation.
The support for the bill revolves around the nebulous idea that this somehow violates practices of “fair chase,” but for deeper-thinking people it has created a firestorm of controversy on the BHA Facebook page and on Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms across the country. Apparently, a lot of hunters are seeing through the cries that selling GPS coordinates to a location where someone once saw a trophy elk or deer is somehow a violation of fair chase and sportsmanship.
The fact that the bill exempts guides and private landowners is the first red flag. Is there any difference between selling a GPS coordinate than a guide taking a hunter to a trophy animal or a landowner selling the opportunity to shoot a head of publicly-owned game on their property? The anti-hunting community wants to ban anything and everything hunting, and with the help of what I call the “useful idiot-side of the hunter’s campfire,” the antis are getting the job done a piece at a time.
Anyone who thinks through the Montana bill should be able to see that it is chasing a tail on a non-existent animal. Even if someone was selling such detailed information, that is still a far cry from a dead animal on the ground. Guides and dedicated hunters who watch bucks and bulls for a number of seasons sometimes can’t kill the monster even when they’ve been in near-daily contact with it. There are just too many variables in the equation. A GPS coordinate from two or three months ago, while not useless, is little more than a guidepost. It’s about as valuable as a tip from a kid in a gas station who tells you where he’s seen a giant buck cross the road several times in the past year. You still have to go hunting.
Hunter support for this bill, this concept is wrong on three fronts.
First, the only one to benefit in the short time are the guides and outfitters who now have a potentially serious form of competition – and that is assuming this becomes a big business and guys are out scouting like crazy and then selling the information handsomely. Suspicious people like me who distrust all politicians, think the Cohenour’s likely have deep ties the Montana guiding industry that profits from the public’s wildlife.
Second, even if you feel this is a violation of ethics and fair chase, do we have the right as hunters to ban something simply because we don’t like it?
Here in California, I have watched leg-hold traps banned, a mountain lion hunting ban pass by popular vote, hound hunting for bears banned, and moronic bobcat hunting restrictions put in place. There were “useful idiot” hunters who supported all these restrictions because they didn’t like the “ethics” of these activities. They didn’t meet their standards of “fair chase.”
Hunters need to be concerned about habitat, access to public lands, sound game management practices, and our protected right to own firearms for hunting and all other uses. When I hear the words “hunter ethics” or “fair chase” mentioned in the same sentence as regulation or legislation, I know the circle of hunters is about to get smaller, just like the minds of the people who are pushing it. I can see the day when the circle become so tight, all hunting is banned.
The discussion of ethics and fair chase are best determined among hunters, around campfires, and over barbecues, not in bureaucracies or legislatures.
When bear hunting with hounds was banned here, it removed the most effective hunting practice for bears in the state. It also banned the most selective harvest tool. Using hounds allowed hunters to be very selective, letting females or young bears go, and making sure bears with cubs were not killed. Now the population of bears is booming, and more and more “pest” animals are being killed each year by “officials” instead of hunters. There are more mountain lions killed in California today on depredation permits that were ever killed by sport hunters. But that nasty sport of terrorizing bears and mountain lions with hounds, just killing them for fun, has disappeared.
The reality is that hound hunting was dying on its own in California because hunter ethics and norms were changing. Fewer and fewer hunters were interested in lion hunting, and the same is happening with bears. Trapping was disappearing before the ban on leg-hold traps and now the California legislature has introduced a bill to completely ban trapping for furs, putting the last 100 or so trappers left in this state out of business. But it’s the moral imperative -- and we’re going to legislate it.
Those hunters on the moral high ground will likely support the anti-hunters next round of hysteria. Hunting of all predators – from bears to bobcats – will be completely banned next. Then non-game animal hunting will be banned because no one should shoot something they don’t eat. Then all big game hunting will be banned because we will need those animals to feed the protected wolves and bobcats and coyotes and bears and mountain lions. Archery hunting will be banned because it is inhumane. In the end, hunting will be banned, and almost every step of the way the self-righteous hunters will be carrying the anti-hunters jugs of emotional Koolaid.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, if someone actually invested the time and money to find where trophy game animals live and then want to sell that information to someone with a lot of money, we don’t have the right to ban that. That is intellectual property, knowledge earned with a lot of sweat and hard work, and that property is protected under our nation’s laws. Governments and bureaucracies don’t have the right to prohibit the sale of that exclusive information. You might not like it. I might not like it. But Legislation to stop it is nearly always wrong-headed.
Legislation like this in Montana puts up sign posts for the anti-hunters to follow on how enact more regulations and laws that will impact all hunting and hunters. To not see that is to be a facilitator for the anti-hunting movement. You become their “useful idiot.” Sadly, this argument falls on deaf ears for the selfish hunters who support bills like this. For them, it’s their way or the highway.
So yet again, hunters have met the enemy and he is us.
This story was first published in Gun Pro Plus on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 909-887-3444.