State Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish

4/20/2017

fish and huntTwenty-one states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with twenty of those approved via the voters. While Vermont's language dates back to 1777, the rest of these constitutional provisions—in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming—have passed since 1996. Florida and New Hampshire statutorily recognize the right to hunt and fish.

California and Rhode Island have language in their respective constitutions guaranteeing the right to fish, but not to hunt. Advocates also consider Alaska’s constitutional language—“Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use”—as meeting the test because of its strong case law history. Oklahoma's constitution was amended in 2016 to include the right to engage in ranching and farming.

2016 Update

  • Indiana and Kansas voters approved amendments their respective state constitution to include the right to hunt and fish. 
  • Nevada passed language to amend its constitution to include the right to hunt and fish in 2015, but the language will not be effective until passed by the 2017 Legislature and approved by voters at the 2018 General Election.
  • Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, West Virginia considered legislation on the constitutional right to hunt and fish issue in 2016, but did not pass. 
  • Oklahoma passed a similar 2016 ballot initiatve to consider a constitutional amendment to secure the right to farm and ranch.

2015 Update

  • Texas voters overwhelming approved enshrining the right to hunt and fish in the state’s constitution on November 2nd. 
  • Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and West Virginia debated bills in 2015, but they failed to advance. 

2014 Update

  • Mississippi became the 18th state with a constitutional right to hunt and fish provision with 88 percent of voters in favor of the amendment.
  • Alabama voters, nearly 80 percent of them, refined already existing language, adding that hunting and fishing are the “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife."   
  • Eight states— Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—considered bills in 2014 proposing the creation of a state constitutional amendment to protect the right to hunt and fish.
  • The Indiana legislature adopted a resolution calling for an amendment establishing the right to hunt and fish in their constitution, but it must also pass in the 2015 or 2016 legislative session to be placed on the ballot. 

2012 Election Update

  • In November of 2012, voters in four more states—Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming—overwhelmingly passed legislatively referred ballot measures to add a constitutional right to hunt and fish.
  • Seven other states—Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania—considered legislation to amend the constitution to add the right to hunt and fish in 2012, but were unsuccessful.

2010 Election Update

  • Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee had measures on the 2010 ballot to enshrine the right to hunt and fish in their state constitutions.
  • The measures in Arkansas, South Carolina and Tennessee passed, but Arizona became the first state to reject such an initiative.
States With Constitutional Right to Hunt and fish
State Year of Adoption
Alabama 1996
Arkansas 2010
Georgia 2006
Idaho 2012
Indiana 2016
Kansas 2016
Kentucky 2012
Louisiana 2004
Mississippi 2014
Minnesota 1998
Montana 2004
Nebraska 2012
North Dakota 2000
Oklahoma 2008
South Carolina 2010
Tennessee 2010
Texas 2015
Vermont 1777
Virginia 2000
Wisconsin 2003
Wyoming

2012

 

Hunting and Fishing a Constitutional Right?

2008 State Legislatures article

Sportsmen in many states increasingly feel as if they are the ones outside the duck blind, and they are turning to state constitutions to ensure their hallowed pastime will continue in perpetuity. Increasing urbanization, decreased habitat, declining numbers of sportsmen, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the quest to assert the right to hunt and fish in a state's most basic and difficult-to-amend document. On land that has been traditionally open to sportsmen, development of farmland and forests, along with pressure from other recreational groups such as hikers and off-road vehicles, is putting the pinch on the available land for harvesting game and fish.

Well-organized animal rights groups and limitations on methods, seasons and bag limits for certain game species have provoked many hunter advocacy groups to lobby for hunting and fishing as a right, and their call is being heard in statehouses across the country. Twenty-two states, including 12 in 2008 alone, have introduced legislation or ballot measures on this issue, with Oklahoma and Tennessee's measures passing in 2008 and Oklahoma's headed to the ballot in November (it later passed). Senator Glen Coffee, sponsor of the Oklahoma resolution, noted that hunting and fishing have "Historically been unfettered rights," and "Oklahoma was formed by populist people and our constitution is very long already, so I think people do think it is the appropriate place to address this." Senator Coffee feels good about the referendum's chance of success in November.

Opponents state that these provisions clutter a constitution and overstate the threat to these activities, while possibly limiting or increasing the amount and severity of restrictions that can be placed on sportsmen activities. The Humane Society states, "The constitution should guarantee fundamental democratic rights, not provide protection for a recreational pastime."

Some states, such as Florida, have inserted the right to hunt and fish into state statutes, but have not taken the more drastic step of embedding it in the state constitution. The road to changing the constitution often goes through legislatures, with legislators typically introducing resolutions to ask the voters to approve changes.