Hunters In The Cross-Hairs Anti-Hunting Groups Are Influenced and Well Funded

By David Hart

On a cool day in September 1991, a young man dressed in a blaze-orange vest led a throng of reporters through the woods of a public hunting area on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. A broadhead, encased in a plastic tube, dangled from a chain around his neck. It was a prop that played perfectly into the hands of the media, which hung on Wayne Pacelle’s every word. The brash young leader of the Fund for Animals, Pacelle looked more like a teen-ager on his way to a skateboard park than an activist for a radical cause. However, he was quickly becoming one of the most visible and articulate members of the anti-hunting movement. Pacelle showed up on nightly newscasts and was a regular voice in newspapers and magazines.

His purpose that day was not to disrupt the opening day bow-hunt — which he did — but to earn more media attention for his anti-hunting cause. He succeeded and eventually became the de facto leader of the animal-rights movement, a general overseeing an army of dedicated troops. He now serves as the chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, acting and appearing more like a corporate officer than a rogue activist. 

A Shift in Strategy

The days of vocal protests as a media stunt have virtually ended. Although anti-hunters still harass hunters or stage demonstrations at public hunting areas, mostly in urban or suburban areas, they don’t garner much media attention, at least not on a national level. They don’t have to.

“They pretty much accomplished what they wanted to do when they first started holding these staged demonstrations,” said Doug Jeanneret, vice president of marketing for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. “They let their presence and their mission be known through media exposure. Now, they push their agenda through other means.”

Instead of fighting their battles in the courts of public opinion, anti-hunters are now fighting in real courtrooms, challenging localities on the legalities of a planned hunt, and state and federal governments. Almost all of the largest anti-hunting organizations have a staff of lawyers at the ready. They have filed lawsuits to stop everything from urban deer hunts at the local level to ending all hunting on the federal National Wildlife Refuge system. In many instances, they lose, despite outspending pro-hunting groups such as the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. However, they often win, even if they never set foot in a courtroom.

Jeanneret said localities that once held or considered holding public hunts to control burgeoning deer numbers have resorted to hired guns to kill deer instead.

“They just don’t want to deal with the hassles of protestors or the threat of a lawsuit from animal-rights groups, so they just bring in sharpshooters who come in at night and shoot them in spotlights,” he said.

One of the most effective measures animal rights groups have used to stop some hunting activities has been through ballot initiatives. Instead of leaving wildlife management to professional biologists, they attempt to give the public the right to determine wildlife policy. In many states, almost any issue can be put up for a public vote, provided supporters of the measure gather a certain amount of signatures. Volunteers canvass neighborhoods, college campuses or anywhere they think support might be highest. For anti-hunters, the ripe areas are big cities and other places where hunting is not part of the culture, and a misunderstood and often-maligned pastime. Urban residents simply don’t know much about wildlife and sound management principles.

 “A lot of people think bears are endangered," Jeanneret said. "They don’t see bears all over the place like they see deer, so they assume that bears are on the way to extinction."

Although the overwhelming majority of the country supports hunting, anti-hunters twist facts to garner support. Mostly, however, they appeal to emotion. That’s why mountain lion hunting was outlawed in California in 1990 with the passage of Proposition 117. Two years later, voters passed a proposal banning spring bear hunting in Colorado, and Oregon voters outlawed bear hunting with bait and hounds and chasing cougars with hounds. In Fall 2006, Michigan hunters were denied the opportunity to hunt doves by a large margin.

Equally effective, anti-hunters have recently tried several times to force state and federal wildlife agencies to undertake lengthy and costly environmental impact studies that examine the effects of basic management decisions. For example, when Michigan resource managers proposed a timber-management program on state-owned forests, the Sierra Club filed a suit that would have forced the Department of Natural Resources to implement an EIS. The USSA helped win that fight.

Are Deer Hunters Safe?

Jeanneret says anti-hunters know which groups of hunters are most vulnerable, which is one reason deer hunting, on a wide-scale basis, is at less risk than, say, black bear hunting. Don’t be fooled, however. As he pointed out, deer hunts have been cancelled or handed over to paid guns as a direct result of animal-rights activists. Any lost opportunity doesn’t bode well for deer hunters.

“Their efforts are really aimed at gradually eroding our ability to hunt," Jeanneret said. "Deer are on the hit list; they’re just further down the page. We see legislation to increase no-hunting buffer zones around dwellings, restrictions on the use of firearms in urban and suburban areas, restrictions on the age at which hunters can start as efforts to ban all deer hunting. They aren’t so intensively working on these issues, but you can be sure they are part of those efforts. They work to take away our freedoms a little at a time, and that loss of freedom simply makes it more difficult for hunters. They want us to just give up by imposing as many barriers as they can.”

Although most efforts have failed so far, those organizations are paying for studies to develop a birth-control vaccine that would control deer numbers through nonlethal means. Such efforts have proven expensive, tedious and ineffective, but studies are still underway in public parks in Ohio and New Jersey. Is it a threat to hunting as we know it? Perhaps not — at least not yet — but anti-hunters are a dedicated lot.

Know Thine Enemy

What was once considered a fringe element of the lunatic left has become a major player in politics and science. According to Jeanneret, HSUS surpassed Exxon/Mobil in campaign contributions during the 2006 elections.

“They have lots and lots of friends in very powerful places," he said. "They give money to many United States senators, they have many state and local politicians sympathetic to their causes and as we all know, there are lots of anti-hunters in Hollywood and the media."

Even an entire cable network, Comedy Central, donated $200,000 to PETA in 2005, according to the watch-dog Web site

The anti-hunting movement is spearheaded primarily by Humane Society of the United States, which is the largest and most effective anti-hunting organization in the world. It claims more than 10 million members. The National Rifle Association has about 4 million members. People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, perhaps known more widely than HSUS, has a fraction of HSUS’s membership and money, and spends little of its efforts on specific issues related to hunting. Make no mistake, however, PETA is a powerful organization that will do anything to end hunting as we know it. However, it focuses most of its efforts on issues related to pets, farming and medical research. HSUS is the biggest and most direct threat to hunting.

“Fund for Animals merged with HSUS, and HSUS also took in the Doris Day Animal League to become an even larger and more powerful organization,” Jeanneret said.

Jeanneret said when animal-rights groups moved from the fringe to mainstream acceptance about 20 years ago, their combined revenue was somewhere around $300 million. That’s changed. They became active and successful fund-raising machines. PETA took in more than $27 million in 2005 and spent nearly $3 million of that on fund-raising. The Humane Society’s revenue that year was almost $125 million.

“The top 10 animal-rights groups took in about $300 million last year," Jeanneret said. "That number could actually be quite a bit higher. They are using that money to fund ballot initiatives and lawsuits, and they also are giving more in campaign contributions to elect public officials sympathetic to animal rights.”

United We Stand

Of the many battles hunters lost to anti-hunting groups, Jeanneret said almost all could have been won. He is sometimes dismayed by the lack of unity among hunters, especially when an issue doesn’t directly affect certain core groups.

“Bear hunters have really been fighting some big battles, and in a few cases, losing those battles," he said. "I have no doubt that if deer hunters and bird hunters joined to help defend bear hunting, there might have been no defeats."

However, Jeanneret is convinced that many hunters don’t see the link between deer hunting and dove or bear hunting or trapping.

“These anti-hunting organizations succeed when they go after the less popular groups of hunters, like bear hunters or mountain lion hunters, because they know they are the most vulnerable and often have the least amount of support from the hunting community as a whole," he said. "They aren’t attacking bear hunters because they only hate bear hunters. If we want to protect the future of hunting that has to change. Hunters need to step up and speak out for one another, even if the antis are attacking something you don’t do.”

In other words, don’t wait until your freedom to hunt whitetails is directly at risk. Believe it or not, all forms of hunting are under attack, even if the anti-hunting crowd hasn’t set their sights on you yet.

USSA: Celebrating 30 Years

The United States Sportsmen’s Alliance sole purpose is to defend America’s hunters and trappers from the continued assault on our outdoors heritage.

Founded in 1978 as a state organization to fight a proposed statewide ban on trapping in Ohio, the USSA, previously known as the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, soon became a national organization. The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation have been working ever since to defend hunting, fishing, trapping and scientific wildlife management against lawsuits, legislation and ballot issues initiated by anti-hunters.

The USSA counts among its victories efforts to protect moose hunting in Maine, dove hunting in Ohio and many other local and national issues. It also helped shape legislation in all 50 states to protect hunters and anglers from harassment afield.
The group needs your help to continue fighting anti-hunting efforts. For information, visit, or call (614) 888-4868.