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Outdoorsmen can exert political clout

• Updated Jul 27, 2013 at 12:43 AM

Hunters and fishermen tend to be private, low-key sorts who savor solitude and aren’t big on politics, picketing, and placard-waving.

That’s been a mistake in the past.

We sat idly by and allowed more politically-attuned groups like PETA and anti-gun activists to run rough-shod over us and work to sway public opinion to their causes.

When it comes to rolling up our sleeves and climbing into the rough-and-tumble political arena, most outdoorsmen are wimps.

That needs to change – HAS to change – if hunting, fishing and the shooting sports are to survive. There are well-organized and well-funded forces pushing against them, and if we don’t push back, the activities we cherish will gradually be legislated out of existence.

There are groups across the country committed to banning hunting. Some of the more extreme, like PETA, also want to ban fishing. The mainstream media tends to present their one-sided viewpoint.

It’s virtually impossible to watch a network TV program or read a metropolitan newspaper without encountering blatant anti-gun bias and more subtle but just as nefarious anti-hunting propaganda.

A recent example: A federal legislator proposed a bill that would allow individuals to transport a sporting firearm only during “legal hunting periods.” That would end most traditional duck, deer and turkey hunting, since “legal hunting time” is from sunrise to sunset. A hunter couldn’t travel from his home to his hunting site, with a gun, in time for a dawn hunt. And he’d have to be back home before sundown.

I don’t know if the legislator was simply clueless about hunting, or deliberately disingenuous, but either way such a bill would obviously be disastrous.

Outdoorsmen are starting to wake up and fight back, as we saw during this spring’s battle with the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The Corps was blithely on its way to closing off its Kentucky and Tennessee tailwaters to boat fishing when an unprecedented angler uprising knocked it winding.

Incensed fishermen, aided by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Tennessee Wildlife Federation, let their politicians know how opposed they were to the Corps’ heavy-handed and misguided plan.

Initially the fishermen didn’t get anywhere. They held meetings with the Corps, but Corps officials ignored their complaints and proceeded with plans to block tailwater access. But the boisterous uprising continued, and eventually got the media’s attention. That in turn prompted a political response.

Elected representatives, including U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, applied pressure on the Corps, and it eventually was forced to back down.

There’s a lesson there. If fishermen hadn’t become united and vocal – and let the media and their elected representatives know how they felt -- tailwater boat fishing would have been lost in Middle Tennessee.

They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and for once outdoorsmen squeaked until they were heard.

It’s estimated that almost one million Tennesseans hunt and/or fish. Even more telling, three years ago a Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment to the Tennessee constitution passed by a 9-to-1 margin on a state-wide ballot.

That means nine out of ten Tennesseans support hunting and fishing, even if they don’t all participate. That’s a lot of clout at the ballot box. It’s time hunters and fishermen started exercising it.

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