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Just How Free are Hunters?

Just How Free are Hunters?

By: Ben Smith - February 22, 2024

  • Outdoor columnist Ben Smith says hunting with absolute freedom isn’t going to happen anytime soon, nor should it.

Wow! The overwhelming response to last week’s column was great. I’d like to thank all of you that sent messages, emails, or commented. I’d also like to especially thank those that didn’t send me a death threat over what was mostly a satirical article. I enjoyed reading through the comment sections and appreciated the feedback on the use of crossbows. It’s always great to get the perspective of the hunting populous of Mississippi. The response that was most frequently discussed on the pages that I perused was freedom. Let’s dive into that this week.

I believe that we can mostly all agree that Mississippians love their freedom. We are so quick to stand up and shout about it when we feel we are being pushed by the big, bad government. But do we really have freedom when it comes to the outdoors? Can you really do whatever you want on your own land? Also, is total outdoor freedom a good thing?

We all love the idea that we are a free people. Free to come and go as we please. Free to say what we want. Just saying the words “I’m free” makes you feel good. But what does it mean? You cannot kill deer out of season. Well, you can, but not without consequences. Legally speaking, you cannot kill a deer during archery season with a high-powered rifle. You cannot hunt with your weapon of choice on government lands during certain periods of the season. You cannot hunt with the use of dogs during archery season, even if you use a crossbow. I could go on and on listing different hunting regulations that we are to abide by, but you should get the point by now.

What about on your own land? This is going to come as a surprise to a lot of people, but the MDWFP really doesn’t care if your name is on the land, or not. But you pay your taxes, right? That land and everything on it belongs to you, right. Wrong. Technically, the state of Mississippi in all of its glory owns those critters you enjoy hunting. And they are going to tell you what you can and cannot do on your land whether you like it, or not. The truth is that freedom doesn’t really mean what you think it means. If you still don’t believe it, try hunting after dark all year and see where it gets you. Just make sure to boast about it on the internet when you do so we can all watch.

Is there ever a time when absolute outdoor freedom isn’t a good thing? I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d say that absolute outdoor freedom is NEVER a good thing. With freedoms come responsibility, and let’s face it, most hunters in Mississippi can’t handle it. I’m not even impervious to having too much freedom. If given enough space, I’ll screw things up more than I care to admit. Be honest and ask yourself how many times you thought about shooting a deer that didn’t make standards if you knew nobody would find out. If we are really honest, I’ll bet there are more that read that and nodded than not. We need regulations in place to not only keep us honest, but to ensure that hunting will be around for generations to come. It’s often been said that “those that fail to understand history are condemned to repeat it.” An outdoors without regulations would be the death of it.

So, what would our world look like without these hunting regulations that so many of you profess as infringing on your freedoms? We don’t have to look very far to get the answer. Less than a century back, the deer population in the state of Mississippi was around 1,200 statewide. That’s hard to imagine since we have over 1.5 million in our state now. Guess what’s to blame for the boom? I’ll give you a hint… deer didn’t just all of a sudden start having more babies. Now, I’m not saying if we stripped away regulations that we’d return to those century old numbers. We obviously have more hunters now that are conservationist-minded and wouldn’t kill everything that walked. But once again, freedom requires us to be responsible, and the responsibility of successfully managing the deer herd is more than we could handle without regulations.

Fortunately, barring some miraculous revolution of deer hunters all across America, hunting with absolute freedom isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Nor should it. We all have opinions of how we want our hunting industry to look. Some of you think we need less regulations and I respect that, even if I don’t always agree. Just like me thinking we should return crossbow hunting to its original regulation, which was for those over 65, or with physical handicaps before Senate Bill 2048 was signed into law in 2013. Both are opinions with neither necessarily being right or wrong. My challenge to you, and to myself, is to continue to debate the regulations we have. Not from an emotional standpoint, but from the position of “Is this going to benefit the future of hunting in Mississippi, or be detrimental to it?” And let the record state that I do not, in fact, drive a Prius, nor do I have a personal relationship with Joe Biden.

About the Author(s)
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Ben Smith

A native of Laurel, Mississippi, Ben played baseball at William Carey University before joining the coaching staff at WCU, where he’s spent the last 16 years. He also serves as a History Instructor in the WCU School of Arts and Letters. During the Covid shutdown in 2020, he began the outdoor blog “Pinstripes to Camo”. The blog quickly grew into a weekly column and was awarded as the #1 Sports Column in the state by the Mississippi Press Association. During that time, “Pinstripes to Camo” also became a weekly podcast, featuring various outdoor guests from around the country, and has grown into one of the top outdoor podcasts in the Southeast.