The third Saturday in November marks the opening day of Virginia’s firearms deer season. It also turns into seven weeks of frustration for landowners in many parts of the state.
Hunters turn dogs loose to chase deer with little regard for where those dogs run. They frequently end up on land where they aren’t welcome, disrupting still-hunters, harassing livestock and otherwise creating chaos in their wake. Under the current laws, landowners have no choice but to allow it. It’s time for this abuse of property rights to end.
These conflicts aren’t new. The Department of Wildlife Resources undertook a study in 2008 that examined hunter-landowner conflicts with the aim of finding common ground and reducing complaints. Nothing came from it. A more recent effort, a stakeholders advisory committee, also came up with no viable solutions. Hound hunter representatives actually asked for more opportunities to run their dogs.
Despite what should have been a wake-up call nearly two decades ago, the hound hunting community has failed to offer any solutions to this long-running issue. Why should they? For those seven weeks, private land becomes their land. All they have to do is turn their dogs loose on their side of the property line and wait for the hounds to hunt adjoining lands.
The issues don’t end there. Trucks line rural roads, creating safety issues, and hunters stand near the road and wait for deer to run past. It’s an image that is damaging to the entire hunting community.
Even the hound hunting community acknowledges this issue isn’t going away. In fact, as Virginia’s population increases, conflicts between landowners and hound hunters will only get worse. More than 1 million additional residents are expected to move to Virginia within 15 years.
Thanks in part to public awareness efforts by property rights groups, more and more new and generations-long landowners alike are speaking up. Dozens from all across Virginia showed up to a January DWR board meeting to share their experiences. They are also telling their state representatives.
Many of those representatives are finally listening. Bills have been introduced into the General Assembly that could help reduce trespassing deer hounds and other issues related to them. A proposed amendment to the budget would give the DWR the authority to create a permit system for hounds. Members of the Virginia Property Rights Alliance hope this gives law enforcement agencies the ability to identify problem dogs and their owners and penalize them. Not surprisingly, the hound hunting lobby opposes this.
Another, Senate Bill 712, would prohibit hunters from intentionally releasing hounds from state right-of-ways. Not surprisingly, the hound lobby also opposes this.
In addition to those measures, the VPRA would also like to see Virginia’s antiquated “right-to-retrieve” law repealed. Currently, hunters can walk on private land at any time without landowner knowledge or permission to find wayward dogs. No one should be allowed to enter private property without consent.
We would also like to see the DWR adopt a minimum acreage requirement that would limit hounds to larger tracts of land. As it is now, hunters can (and frequently do) drop their dogs on small parcels, knowing those animals will leave that property and hunt on adjoining ones.
Despite what the hound lobby says, passage of these bills and adopting additional measures will actually preserve the tradition these men and women love so much. By reducing conflicts between hunters, landowners and the non-hunting public now, the sport can continue where it is suitable. The VPRA would like to see this long-running heritage continue. But it needs to end on land where it isn’t welcome. Virginia is changing. So too, must its traditions.
Call, write and email the DWR board, your state delegates and local officials and tell them hounds and hound hunters need to stay on their side of the property line.
Judge Charlton is a Charlotte County logger and president of the Virginia Property Rights Alliance.