Last week the Northern Neck was the focal point for protecting hunters’ rights in the region and throughout the state.
On Sunday, March 23, over 90 hunters and their children lined the bleachers in the at a meeting of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (VHDA), held at the Richmond County Intermediate Schools, to stress the organization’s purpose and recent efforts.
Chairman Jim Hackett, of Prince George County, and Vice-Chairman Kirby Burch, of Powhatan County, stressed the alliance’s mission of securing the heritage of hunting with dogs in Virginia.
Hackett and Burch spoke on matters concerning attempts by legislation and even neighbors of the hunters to limit their rights and police how they handled their dogs.
“It’s our goal to be a representative of all the outdoor sportsman’s organizations,” said Hackett. “We want them all to come on board because we represent the interest of rabbit hunters, coon hunters, deer hunters, bear hunters and [hunting with] retrievers.”
For example, Hackett provided that, should a legislature attempt to curtail the rights of bow hunters, the alliance would take on the hunters’ fight as their own.
“We don’t have to be asked,” said Hackett. “Our view is: an attack against or a loss of any privilege to hunt is an attack against all of us.
“We’re not willing to surrender anything,” he added.
“You have rights,” Burch told the audience in the gymnasium. “As voters, you have a powerful voice.”
Hackett said the turnout at the middle school, which he called “a good representation of Richmond County,” made the alliance realize how much the residents cared about their county and sport.
Hackett added that being able to address a large group of people like the hunters of Richmond County allowed the alliance to educate more individuals about the VHDA.
“It’s the difference of throwing a small rock and a big rock at a pond,” said Hackett, who added that the “ripples” of the effect were felt in Richmond County.
“A lot was gained,” he said. “A lot of people were educated.”
In addition, people from three counties…Lancaster, Northumberland and Westmoreland…came forward to express their interest in starting local chapters under the VHDA.
“Three other counties are fired up and they’re itching to get something going,” Hackett said. “It gives us an opportunity to make a statement to all the local people and hopefully to county representatives.”
Hackett said they not only hoped to reach the men and women who practiced the sport, but also the county supervisors and animal control officers who could act as the people’s voice in government.
“We are not your enemy…we are your best friend,” Hackett emphasized on behalf of the alliance. “We are the people who would preserve your heritage.”
Hackett recalled a case in Sussex County where local officials passed a county ordinance requiring a conditional use permit for new kennels. The alliance became involved when members saw the ordinance as an infringement on the citizens’ rights.
“The county was giving [itself] the privilege to…come up on your property and inspect as they wanted to without any notice,” said Hackett. “That’s a violation of search and seizure.”
The alliance held a 300-member protest at the county courthouse, forcing officials to overturn the ordinance and pushing until all individuals who had been charged were refunded their money back.
In discussing the political climate, Hackett said the alliance would most likely favor Republican candidates during upcoming state elections as they had been “more complementary to our needs.”
“We’ll be keeping an ear to the ground or Richmond and watching,” said Hackett, adding that the alliance would support any Democratic candidates who advocated their cause.
“It’s not about [political] alliance,” Hackett said. “It’s about the citizens of Virginia…it’s their heritage that’s under attack.
“You got to go with who’s backing you,” he added.
Burch noted that the alliance’s ultimate goal was to have both political parties support their mission.
“Only when we don’t have to fight in partisan battles do we have a chance,” said Burch.
Of the upcoming legislative battles within the next year, Hackett said the VHDA anticipates taking a stance against Sunday hunting once again.
Out of the 1,100 people whom the alliance surveyed, Hackett reported that 78 percent of Virginia’s sportsmen opposed legalizing hunting on Sunday.
“If a majority of Virginians oppose it, why would you push to get something legalized when we know the majority doesn’t want it?” said Hackett. “That’s going to bring more negative impact to the sport, so we don’t want to push it.”
The alliance currently has 21 chapters and represents 25 counties, as well as three cities, in the state. Hackett reported that membership in the VHDA exceeds 75,000 members and noted that more organizations, including the Virginia Bear Hunters Association, were allying with the VHDA.
For more information about the alliance, visit their website at http://vahda.org/index.html.