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Hunting may become right in state Constitution

By Ed Brock

Win Rice of McDonough has been a hunter since he was a child, and he wants that tradition to carry on.

That's why he supports the movement to make hunting a right under the Georgia Constitution.

"It will protect the rights of my kids and the kids of everybody else who's into this sport," Rice said.

This past week two bills were passed in the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate that would amend the state's constitution to make hunting and fishing a right in Georgia. One of the bills must be selected for approval by the governor's office and then the issue will be put on the ballot for November's election for the people's approval.

The amendment would change the constitution to assert that "the tradition of hunting and fishing and the taking of fish and wildlife shall be preserved for the good of the people," according to the House bill.

Senate President Pro-tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said he proposed the move to preserve the rights of sportsmen in the state for generations to come.

While there is no immediate threat to hunting and fishing in Georgia, Johnson said "there could be next year ... or to your children or grandchildren."

The resolution passed on a 51-3 vote.

House sponsor Rep. Greg Morris, D-Vidalia, said he couldn't name a specific threat to hunting or fishing, but the amendment passed 154-14.

"This tradition is one that ought to be preserved in the constitution," he said.

Opponents complained that the amendment was unnecessary.

"What are we fixing here? Has there ever been a challenge to this?" said Rep. Bob Holmes, D-Atlanta.

That's not the only problem Clayton County Humane Society Vice President Robin Rawls sees with it.

"Hunting is a special interest," Rawls said. "I don't think our constitution needs to give rights to special interests."

Like Johnson, Henry County hunter and taxidermist Dan Dominick said that, while the threat to hunting may not be imminent, it is still "definitely possible."

"It's happening over in Europe right now," Dominick said.

Dominick runs his taxidermy business, Dan's Taxidermy, out of a shed in the back yard of his Stockbridge home. The shed is a biology lesson in practice, with fresh fox carcasses on the floor, molds of various parts of the bodies of deer, boar and fish adorning the wall and fish skins stewing in a barrel of tanning solution.

"As long as people are hunting legally and ethically, it should end right there," Dominick said.

When people look at hunting from the outside and allow their emotions to reign, they can see it as cruel. But Dominick said that the fact is the proper management of animal populations is necessary.

"That proper management is the only reason we have wildlife in this nation that everybody can enjoy," Dominick said.

Without hunting more animals would die from sickness and starvation, Dominick said, and if hunting were banned outright those effects would show within 15 or 20 years.

"Nature's brutal when it controls the population," Dominick said.

At the same time, Dominick said most hunters are very concerned with preserving species and oppose hunting a species to extinction. In fact, years ago the population of wild turkey in Georgia was on the verge of disappearing, but money raised through hunting license fees and taxes on hunting equipment went to programs for restoring that population.

"Now the turkey population in Georgia is better than most Southeastern states," Dominick said.

Rice said people who hunt irresponsibly "aren't the real sportsmen." The traditions of safe and responsible hunting are passed down along with the interest in the sport, he said.

The first thing he did was send his children to a hunting safety class where they learned how to carry a gun through the woods and the importance of using safety harnesses when climbing into a tree stand.

"What you have to do as a parent is, when you take them out in the woods, reinforce what they learned in that school," Rice said.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources also supports the amendment, though they worked with the bills' sponsors to make sure the wording did not impinge on the department's ability to regulate the sport, DNR spokeswoman Beth Brown said.

Rawls, who is also a member of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization, said that like most animal rights advocates she would like to see hunting made illegal altogether.

"But the reality is, where we live, it probably isn't going to happen," Rawls said.

At the same time, Rawls said she thinks the interest in hunting is declining. She also questions the amendment effort as a way to prevent the passage of a law that may one day have the support of the majority.

"In this country we live by majority rules," Rawls said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.