|Uncollared deer hound, no owner in sight, |
stops traffic on Virgina 4-lane highway.
But if I'm hunting deer with hounds, I face no such hurdles. I have no legal requirement to keep my dogs on the 30 acre parcel I lease, and prevent them from running onto adjacent farms, past other hunters, through herds of livestock, or into a neighbor's chicken house. And when I get around to retrieving my wayward hound, I don't need to ask anybody. I can pull up in their driveway and just help myself to their property. That's the legal side. To hear it that way - the way the houndsmen tell it - one might think that Virginia HB 2345, currently under consideration in Virginia's House of Delegates, might be "too much medicine for the patient." HB 2345 would repeal Virginia's bizarre legal standard "right to retrieve hounds without permission," commonly referred to as "liberal retrieve." Could it really be that bad, if it's just unarmed guys collecting hounds?
Maybe not......but maybe. That was the legal side of liberal retrieve. The illegal side is harder for Virginia landowners to swallow - though swallow it is what they're required to do every year, as they contact game wardens about situations like the one below, to hear the game wardens say, "Sorry, we've had 5 calls like this already today, and we're investigating #2 right now."
The illegal side goes like this: 15 hounds get released on CSX railroad right-of-way (trespassing, hunting without permission). The hounds wander onto the two posted private properties on each side of the rail bed (trespassing, hunting without permission). Half of the houndsmen post themselves up and down the public road with loaded weapons (illegal), even though they have no permission to shoot any game animals that might approach them from the adjacent properties (illegal). The other houndsmen walk down the railroad tracks (illegally), spotting a man in a treestand who happens to be one of the landowners. A conflict ensues wherein the houndsmen scream that "we hunt this land until we say we don't."
No deer are flushed but the hounds do not return. The houndsmen leave. They return at 9:00 at night with spotlights and loaded guns to "retrieve their hounds." To better accomplish this, they drive (without permission) through the neighbor's fields on ATV's, destroying his cover crop. They stay out all night, retrieving 13 of their 15 hounds. They return the next day, without permission, and still armed, to "retrieve" the last two hounds. They leave mud tracks up and down the neighbor's farm road and into the county road.
That's a fictional story composed of real cases encountered by Virginia game wardens. It's the worst case scenario (besides a landowner getting shot by an uninvited houndsman), but it's representative of what the worst 5-10% of houndsmen put their neighbors through every year, all without permission to enter others' property. Despite a 20 year-old standpoint of "These things never happen!" with a secretive background murmur of "Damn, we have to stop doing this!" the hound hunting community has totally failed at policing the behavior of their own.
The houndsmen have a tough ideological hill to climb, and one that inarguably deceives logic. Are private property rights important, or are they not? Should any member of the public (or the government) be able to enter your property at any time? What if an ATF agent is simply retrieving his hound from your private property 10 minutes after you drive away and go to work? Surely, that's not an issue - right? And there's no requirement that you successfully retrieve your hound, so who's to say that Johnny ATF didn't release one (accidentally of course) on your private property.
When houndsmen claim that "we're the good ones," one has to ask, "Do you know any lawbreaking houndsmen?" because the truth is, they do. The next question must be, "How have you tried to mentor him to get him to stop breaking the law or being discourteous to landowners?" and the only answer I've found in that conversation has been, "Well, we don't really talk about it."
Unfortunately for the hound community, Virginia landowners decided to talk to some folks about it. We'll be watching HB 2345 to see how it progresses.