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Indiana and Kansas Make Fishing and Hunting a Constitutional Right

More than 80 percent of voters approved amendments on the ballot in both states.

A hunter carries a pair of geese.
(Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/TNS)
Read all of our coverage on 2016 ballot measures at

Indiana and Kansas have become the latest states to make fishing and hunting a constitutional right. More than 80 percent of voters approved amendments on the ballot in both states.  

Before 1996, Vermont was the only state that guaranteed the right to fish and hunt. Now 21 states do. In all but two of those states, the decision was made at the ballot box.

Even opponents of the measures believed voters would approve them. Voters typically pass right-to-hunt-and-fish measures with large margins, and only one state's voters -- Arizona -- have rejected such an initiative, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  

Proponents, backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), said adding those rights to the constitution would protect an important part of the states’ cultural heritage from regulations seen in some other states.

“In 20 years, the makeup in the legislature could be different, maybe a lot more people will have moved away from their rural traditions and won’t have as much an interest in hunting and fishing," said Catherine Mortensen, a spokesperson for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. "We want to make sure we have those protections for our rural heritage."

Critics, including animal rights and environmental groups, said the measures were unnecessary because residents already had a right to fish and hunt. 

“When people hear ‘right to hunt,’ they think somebody is trying to take it away,” said Midge Grinstead, a state director for the Kansas Humane Society of the United States. “A state constitution is a sacred document, and we already have the right to hunt and fish, so why are we putting it in there?”

Both measures also called for using fishing and hunting as the states' preferred method of controlling wildlife, as opposed to special forms of contraception and other methods of thinning out a population.

Lawmakers have typically introduced these amendments in response to hunting restrictions, urbanization, decreased habitat and declining numbers of sportsmen.

While regulations for fishing and hunting are common, outright bans are rare. California -- which guarantees the right to fish but not hunt -- banned mountain lion hunting in 1990. A decade ago, Michigan -- which guarantees neither right in its constitution -- banned dove hunting. 

Christopher Tymeson, chief legal counsel for the Kansas Department of Parks, Wildlife and Tourism, acknowledged that the higher level of legal protections would make it harder for states to restrict fishing and hunting. 

But even so, Tymeson's department was in favor of the amendment because it would protect an important source of economic activity and conservation funding. Fishing, hunting and wildlife trapping generate about $1 billion a year, and user fees pay for the state’s conservation efforts.

Several animal rights groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), opposed both ballot measures, as did the Hoosier Environmental Council, an Indiana think tank. 

Read all of our coverage on 2016 ballot measures at

J.B. Wogan is a Governing staff writer.
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