I grew up hunting with my dad, my uncles and my grandfather on various family farms and the farms of our neighbors. Some of my fondest memories are of those days tramping sedge fields looking for quail and following squirrel dogs through the woods.
Wildlife agencies have done a great job restoring wild animal populations in recent decades—we had no deer or turkeys to hunt when I was a boy. We need to continue to support the efforts of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to look out for our wild animals and our fish. I still enjoy following a Beagle pack or fox hounds, though I quit shooting game years ago. I was taught that you eat what you shoot, and I'd rather just have a steak. And I'm too old to manhandle a deer carcass.
But the traditional way of hunting in the South that I enjoyed is becoming harder and harder. Hunting grounds are shrinking. Development has taken some. Farms now rarely have much unproductive land left wild for ground cover wildlife habitat. There are only so many wildlife management areas.
Hunting and fishing in Tennessee is largely non-commercial. The state regulates what's hunted and hunters find places to hunt, depending on the kindness of landowners or leasing tracts for a hunting season. What we have to ask ourselves is whether the way hunting and fishing is presently handled is sustainable, given that the number of casual hunters is in decline as is the hunting license revenue that funds wildlife protection.
There has been outright hostility to the idea of commercial hunting and fishing in Tennessee. It somehow debases the idea of hunting sportsmanship. Other states have begun to promote hunting and fishing as commercial enterprises. Vast tracts of private land, fenced and stocked with game. Resort hotels, jobs as guides, preservation of habitat. All of these things are being done and being funded by hunters willing to travel to find huge deer with magnificent racks.
We have a lot of counties in Tennessee off the interstate routes, without factories. They have double-digit unemployment, extreme poverty, and empty public coffers. What they do have is magnificent scenery, vast tracts of timber land and wildlife of every sort—deer, turkey, wild hogs. And locals who are experienced hunters. These rural counties would be ideal for a thriving hunting industry but this would have to be done by commercial interests. Commercial interests who would bring hotels and hunting tourists to these counties. Tracts of 500 to 10,000 acres fenced and stocked with game. Internet advertising, event planning, taxidermy services. The benefit in business and tax revenue to a rural county is substantial.
Junction City, Texas is a town with 2,500 people. It has seven motels, seven cabin-rental places, six campgrounds and eight bed and breakfasts. It has an Internet listing of 68 ranches and game preserves with fenced hunting areas from 600 acres to 10,000 acres, some of them with hunting lodges on site. Contrast that with Tennessee's Wartburg, Pall Mall, or any little town in the Sequatchie Valley.
I'm not suggesting we change what we are doing now. No one should mess around with our traditional hunting and fishing practices. But we need to rethink preventing anything else from happening. Does the average deer hunter range over more than a hundred acres on a hunt? If you are hunting inside a 500-acre hunting preserve, how is it unsporting if the 500 acres is surrounded by a fence?
We need to remove barriers to the development of commercial hunting preserves. Finding a use for huge tracts of timberland also reduces the pressure to deforest the countryside or dig for coal. The TWRA needs to continue to selling hunting licenses and manage wildlife areas and promote wildlife. But they need to be barred from regulating the operation of private hunting preserves.
Hey, you Republican legislators who have just discovered you do not have a jobs package? Here it is.