House bill challenges dog hunting laws

Published 1:15 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

Some Virginia landowners believe that the time has come for the state to do away with the long-standing “right to retrieve” law. A bill has sparked the debate about hunters and their access to private and posted land in order to retrieve their dogs, all the way to the State Capitol.

House Bill No. 2345, sponsored by David I. Ramadan (R) of Loudon and Prince William counties, would amend §18.2-136 of the Code of Virginia, relating to retrieval of dogs by hunters. The proposed amendment states that hunters may not follow their dogs, carry firearms or bows and arrows or hunt game onto prohibited lands without the permission of the landowner. The use of vehicles is also prohibited without the landowner’s permission, and any person(s) who violate this is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.

Proponents of the bill claim that the right to retrieve law is out of touch, considering Virginia is one of only two states (Minnesota being the other) that allow hunters to retrieve their hounds lawfully, even when access has been unequivocally denied by the landowner. They also argue that several other southern states have placed limits on different forms of the hunting because of landowner’s rights.

Hunters, meanwhile, claim the sport is part of the state’s heritage, as hunting with hounds in the Commonwealth coincides with the founding of the Jamestown settlement, a little over 400 years ago.

“It’s a disappointment that a Northern Virginia legislator that doesn’t hunt and lives in a district without hunting would destroy 300-plus years of Virginia’s heritage,” said Kirby Burch, president of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, which oversees 450 hunt clubs with a membership of nearly 30,000 people. “He knows nothing about rural Virginia.”

Despite several attempts from The Tidewater News, Ramadan could not be reached for comment on Friday, the day he tendered the bill.

Burch is not alone on the subject, either, as several others feel that Ramadan was the wrong person to introduce such legislation.

“These people come out here from the city and have different opinions about how you’re supposed to do things,” said Brian March, vice president of the Community Hunt Club in Carrsville. “[They] don’t understand the lifestyle.”

Some, like Kevin Carroll, vice president of the Virginia Deer Hunting Association, have declined to take a position on the proposed law for now, as he believes it’s in the best interest of his fellow members.

“Our organization’s mission is to promote ethical and legal hunting, and we want to preserve that tradition,” he said. “We sent out a survey to our membership to get their thoughts, and we’re waiting to hear back from them, but we’re not going to take a position on the bill until they get back to us with their opinions.”

Furthermore, hunters fear that these possible sanctions mark the beginning of the end for hunting with dogs altogether.

“It may get to the point that there won’t be anymore dog hunting in the state,” March said. “People will just give up on it because they don’t want to risk losing their dogs or leaving them out in the cold.”

Benjamin Railey of the Davis Ridley Hunt Club in Courtland agrees, and believes that no compromise can be made between the opposing viewpoints.

“[The bill] is detrimental and the long-term demise of hunting with hounds, and we won’t be able to keep the sport alive if it’s passed,” he said. “It’s an attempt to stop hunting completely. First this gets passed, then it’s gone.”

With the sports’ livelihood in the crosshairs, March and the other hunters say they’ll do everything they can to fight for the right to lawfully retrieve their dogs, as the law currently allows.

“When you’re used to doing something your whole life, it doesn’t sit well when you’re being told you can’t anymore.”