Note: a version of this article reprinted (below) ran in the Feb. 2, 2024 online edition of The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. This has been a confrontational, contentious hunting-related issue in Virginia for about 20 years or more. Along with the now-settled Sunday hunting issue, it has been one of the most persistent, pernicious situations affecting affecting Virginia's community of hunters and landowners. Increasingly private property owners, many of whom are hunters themselves, are fed up with unwanted hounds from hunt clubs running across their land for much of the Virginia general firearms season and many of the "training" season days prior. The Virginia landscape is increasingly fragmented. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources last year ordered the formation of an ad hoc stakeholder committee, charging it to come up with consensus recommendations for change. The 18-member committee failed - miserably - again.
We've covered this issue for 15 years. The most recent was here in this weblog and in the Free Lance-Star last year.
Here is some of the other past coverage:
July 7, 2021 - Board passes resolution on using dogs to hunt deer
June 9, 2021 - State board seeks clarity on controversial dog-deer hunting
Feb. 1, 2017 - Hunting dogs bill goes to state house
Jan. 25, 2017 - Legislature hits paws button on hunting dogs bill
Jan. 11, 2017 - New bill could hound some deer hunters to control dogs
Jan. 28, 2016 - Debate over dog-hunting legislation inspires passion
Jan. 29, 2015 - Right-to-retrieve law amendment nixed
Jan. 15, 2015 - As state's landscape changes, so, too, should dog-hunting laws
Jan. 7, 2010 - As seasons changed, so did policies impacting outdoors (last item in list of hot-button issues)
Aug. 7, 2008 - 'Hounds report' advice sought
May 8, 2008 - Survey seeks input on hunting with dogs
I love hunting with my dog and friends' dogs - upland birds, waterfowl, deer on occasion. This issue of trespassing dogs and trespassing hunters looking for those dogs is not going away. Private property owners are getting increasingly organized. Hunting clubs and some longtime hound hunters who passionately try to defend their traditions sometimes seem woefully out of touch when speaking in public forums, not seeming to recognize that blaming anti-hunters and "come heres" is a losing strategy. As best as I can ascertain, this is not an issue fueled by anti-hunters. And you aren't going to win over people by bringing them a couple of venison steaks carved from deer your hounds ran off their property. Neither will telling landowners who hunt that they should be happy hounds are running across their property and stirring up the deer that they are welcome to shoot. It is not, as many of the hound hunting proponents assert, a matter of simply needing more education and communication. The fact is, Jack, you don't OWN the property where your dogs are running. It's as simple as that. The, "My dogs can't read posted or no trespassing signs," argument always falls short. Yes, there certainly seems to be "hotspots" of problem activity, but the hound hunting community and its supporters in local law enforcement, courts and other agencies have been unwilling to fix these hotspots on their own. Now, to paraphrase one hound hunting proponent who spoke at the end of the Jan. 18 DWR public meeting, it's looking like it might start to get fixed for them. We'll see.
Here is where it sits now. A query to Virginia DWR received a reply that a follow-on DWR Board meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Article of Feb. 2, 2024 Follows:
The deadline for filing new legislation in the 2024 session of the Virginia General Assembly has passed and, holy cow, that seems to be a good thing, with a whopping 1,545 bills and nearly 120 resolutions introduced in the House of Delegates and another 736 bills and 70 resolutions in the Senate.
Any contemplated legislation related to the constantly contentious issue of hunting with hounds, mainly for deer east of the Blue Ridge and to a lesser extent bears in the mountains, was short-circuited by yet another failure of a stakeholder study group to adopt constructive recommendations for change.
The current Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Board directed formation of the “ad hoc” group a year ago, citing escalating landowner complaints about trespassing dogs and hunters exercising the “right to retrieve” under Virginia law, along with the partial blocking of public roads by trucks loaded with dog hunters.
Previous studies dating back at least 15 years yielded considerable rhetoric and pledges to do better when it came to deer dog trespass issues and fractured landowner and hunt club relations. Nothing changed. Conflicts seem to be increasing between private landowners, many of whom hunt, and clubs running packs of hounds.
January 18 was the day the DWR Board was to hear consensus recommendations. There were none.
“Consensus wasn’t reached as we had hoped,” said Agency Director Ryan Brown, adding, “We couldn’t figure it out in 2008 or 2016 or get consensus in 2024…I don’t think it’ll be 2032 before we solve it. We need to start resolving conflicts or we’ll be back in this room or, perhaps, another room.”
Those other rooms could include a court, as many landowners have threatened, or a General Assembly room where legislation is created.
Following three hours of passionate public comment, with landowners outnumbering hound proponents at least five to one, Board Chairman Tom Sadler issued an ultimatum, telling Brown and the contracted study group coordinators, he was done with delays and demanded a final report. “This Board is going to do something,” he declared. “Our prayer was that you’d come to consensus and give us a roadmap. You didn’t do that.”
Board member George Terwilliger, who first issued the call a year ago for a resolution to this persistent problem, added, “This issue has to be fixed. You’re forcing the Board to act.”
During the public comment period, landowners spoke of years of conflict and confrontation, damaged property, injured or killed livestock and disruption of the “quiet enjoyment” of their property as noted in the constitution. The few hound hunting proponents speaking didn’t add much to previous assertions that the issue represents “hot spots” of problem actors, something additional law enforcement and community education might resolve. They also spoke of hunting traditions and passions.
One landowner stated that DWR was turning a “blind eye” to the situation. Others complained that law enforcement officers often told them there was little, if anything, they could do. “It’s time to stop this unjust taking of our property,” a landowner said, the term “taking” being a legal term related to a government usurping private property rights.
Some speakers offered potential solutions, including making Virginia more like other southern states, such as Georgia, where hound-hunting issue was squarely addressed. Others talked about technology and the ability to use “geo-fencing” and electronic collars to train dogs to stay away from property lines they aren’t supposed to cross.
Sadler said a special session would be called soon to revisit the issue.
The only bill introduced related to hunting dogs is one by Senator David Marsden, chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee. His SB 712 - Release of hunting dogs; state highway or right-of-way – makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to intentionally release hunting dogs on a right-of-way or highway owned or maintained by the Department of Transportation without the department’s consent. The bill provides for escalating levels of misdemeanor classification for subsequent offenses.
Marsden also proposes a Senate budget amendment that directs DWR to develop, by Oct. 31, 2024, a free permit required for anyone hunting, chasing, or pursuing any game animal or nuisance species with a dog. The amendment partly reads, “The department shall endure that requirements of such permit are minimally restricted and designed to foster an atmosphere of voluntary compliance while preserving private property rights and the tradition of hunting with dogs in Virginia."
Virginia DWR also lists most of the legislation of outdoor interest at https://dwr.virginia.gov/legislation/.
When this blog was first written, the legislation by Senator Marsden had only been available for review for a couple of days. As of Feb. 9, 2024, Marsden's SB 712 bill had advanced from committee and was scheduled for a full Senate vote. It was passed by for a day - something that isn't a great sign for any bill. His bill seems to be the only one attempting to address some of the issues that precipitated the formation of the latest ad hoc hound hunting committee. As written and amended, it tries to solve or, at least, give law enforcement additional breadth to curtail problems related related to "casting" dogs from public roadways, something that shows up regularly in complaints registered by the public to the DWR. It's a shame that legislation was introduced without some sort of formal action, resolution, whatever, by the DWR board, but that's politics. And, as noted in previous writings on these topics, kicking cans down the road is what many politicians, lobbyists and other interest groups do best.
Second, related to Marsden's proposed budget amendment calling for a creation of a permit that would be required of anyone owning a hunting dog. The problem here is it is so nonspecific. Its debut prompted near immediate concern from people who hunt with bird dogs, duck dogs, squirrel dogs, rabbit dogs (spaniels, Labs, Chessies, short-legged beagles, feists and others). Absent any clarification on what breeds would be included in this new permit system, the budget amendment would seem to be creating a new bureaucratic hoop for all hunting dog owners.
Further, the ad hoc committee wasn't formed to address the problems with squirrel dogs, rabbit dogs, ducks dogs, pointers and flushers, it was formed to address the hundreds - if not thousands - of complaints annually related to hounds and trespassing on private property. It is a breed-specific, practice-specific issue. Creating a permit seems to fix nothing. Everyone knows where the issue centers.
Now, I've heard anecdotally that this amendment might yet be amended, necking it down to just cover the animals creating the issues. Let's hope so. I've asked DWR about this issue. Why alienate every waterfowl organization, upland bird organization and more in an overreaching attempt to corral a specific problem? Why alienate people and groups who might even be sympathetic and supportive of what you actually want to achieve?
People who ask for everything often get nothing.
Making every hunting dog owner get a permit is akin to one of the things that used to drive me absolutely nuts in my nearly 20 years of working with the Army. You may have a problem with one soldier, or one unit. That soldier or that unit is the one that is constipated. The typical Army solution was to mandate that the entire Army got the enema, usually over the course of a multi-day CYA session. Addressing the specific problem was something the ad hoc committee was supposed to do. I'm not sure what a permit for all hunting dogs solves.