Not a day goes by when an American outdoorsman doesn’t confide in me that because of the increasingly complex, illogical hunting and fishing regulations across the nation, it would not surprise him if he had unintentionally violated a game law at some point. Other outdoorsmen routinely express their frustration about regulations that serve no purpose and cannot possibly be explained in terms of wildlife management.
America increasingly is drowning in just such strange, goofy regulations and requirements. As logic crusader John Stossel recently exposed, our federal government releases roughly 80,000 pages of new regulations each year - confusing, ambiguous, weird, illogical regulations that serve no meaningful purpose other than to attempt feebly to justify bureaucracies already off the rails. It’s way past bizarre.
The “you don’t need to read it, you just need to sign it” health care bill argued before the Supreme Court was more than 2,700 pages of extraordinarily complex rules and regulations. Sarcastically, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated that having to read the bill was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s cruel-and-unusual-punishment clause.
Regrettably, state hunting regulations also have been ravaged by the overregulation beast. In Alaska, the hunting regulation book is 128 pages long. The Alaska trapping regulation is 48 pages.
Alaska is not alone. Numerous other states have seen incredible expansion of their hunting regulations over the past few decades. In Texas, the summary of hunting and fishing regulations is 85 pages. The hunting regulations in California are roughly 140 pages long.
Even with an increasing mountain of often confusing and complex hunting and fishing regulations, sportsmen have a legal and ethical obligation to know and abide by them, no matter how goofy they may be. I have said this for decades and will continue to do so as we fight to make the regulations sensible.
I have hunted in Alaska for almost 40 years. It is a spectacular, beautiful place that offers incredible big- and small-game hunting cherished by sporters from around the globe.
In 2009, I returned again with my sons to Alaska to hunt black bear. I was unaware that the specific region where I hunted had a new and unprecedented requirement that a bear-hunting tag was considered to be “filled” even with a nonlethal hit on the animal. For 60 years, every tag regulation in every state and Canadian province has declared that you tag the animal upon taking possession of the animal.
The first arrow I shot on that hunt was an obviously nonlethal shot in which the arrow glanced off the animal’s rib, as seen clearly on stop-action video. The bear leapt, stopped, looked around and slowly ambled off, confused but unhurt by the disruption. After a diligent effort by my son and me, we were convinced that this bear was alive and well. We then continued our hunt and ultimately killed a beautiful black bear.
I filmed the entire hunt, including the first, nonlethal arrow, and put it on my television program “Spirit of the Wild” on the Outdoor Channel for tens of millions of viewers to witness. Airing the hunt on television proves beyond all doubt that I had no willful intention to violate any hunting regulation.
Was I negligent in not knowing the Alaska bear-hunting rule for the specific region I hunted that year? Absolutely. For my negligence, I have been charged with a violation, and I pleaded guilty. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person ever charged with violating this new, unheard-of law. Lifetime Alaska hunters, guides, outfitters and even the resident judge at my hearing were unaware of such an unprecedented regulation.
While I disagree with Alaska’s requirement that a tag is considered to be “filled” even on a nonlethal hit, that was the requirement at the time of my hunt. Had I known of that requirement, I would not have hunted that region because I fundamentally disagree with the regulation, and I certainly would not have hunted another bear.
I have promoted the grand, honorable hunting lifestyle all of my life and will continue to do so. Hunting, fishing and trapping are the epitome of true conservation.
What I also pledge to American outdoorsmen is to work to repeal onerous, unscientific, counterproductive rules and regulations that make no sense, such as those in the seven states where hunting is banned on Sunday, making 50 percent of the season illegal for the average hunting families in those states. Idiotic laws such as these are a hindrance to real conservation and the critical need to recruit new hunters. Arbitrary laws serve no scientific purpose that benefits the management of wildlife value.
The outdoor lifestyle cannot be preserved for future generations of sportsmen by constructing such a labyrinth of confusing, unscientific and oftentimes counterproductive regulations and rules. Reversing this trend is my focus.