The Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (VAHDA) is none too pleased about Youngkin’s betrayal on the right to retrieve — and is in a mood to punish.
Hunting with dogs is as old a tradition as George Washington, long thought to have brought the first brace of American foxhounds to the continent.
Whether the claim is true or not, Virginians have had a long and proud tradition of hunting with dogs, running nearly 350 years, surviving the British Empire, coal mining, industrialization, and even the mass influx of suburbia during the 1990s and beyond.
Through no small effort of their own, Virginia’s 2A community consists of groups as widely ranging from the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) to Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association.
Yet there are few organizations in Virginia that have the grassroots might of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (VAHDA).
At stake is a right as old as Magna Carta, the right of transverse, or as it has evolved in Virginia, the right to retrieve.
The rule is this: In Virginia, if your dog (or pet) crosses a property line, you have the right to retrieve your friend. That’s it.
Dogs Can’t Read Signs; Hunters in Short Supply as Deer Populations Explode
Unfortunately, this neighborly understanding of Virginia’s long-standing traditions is not under any threat from hunters who are admirably keeping the tradition alive while keeping deer populations down. Among hunters, it is no small secret that Virginians who hunt have dropped over 38% from our highwater mark in the 1990s while car accidents involving deer continue to increase.
That’s just on the automobile accident side of things. Deer are voracious eaters and the bane of farmers. Notable fact? Deer eat 3-5% of their body weight every day, with larger deer populations consuming millions of dollars in sorely needed cash every year for Virginia farmers.
Most Virginians have no idea what debt they owe to Virginia’s hunters on this count. So why target enthusiasts who are responsible for over half of the culling of deer and the supply of delicious bambique to families across Virginia?
This tradition — a uniquely Southern one at that — is under threat from one source.
Commercial Hunting: A Hammer Looking for a Nail
So is there a problem of hunting dogs trespassing? Not according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). Hunters who hunt with dogs consist of over half of the hunters in Virginia and are responsible for a mere 10% of the hunting complaints and only 8% of all trespass complaints — a mere fraction.
Yet in January 2023, former US Deputy Attorney General and Younkin associate George Terwilliger — a man who has never held a hunting permit much less a fishing permit in Virginia — moved to ask for yet another hound hunting study aimed not at balance, but at restricting the right to retrieve.
In March 2023, the DWR board considered a presentation that would supposedly balance the right to retrieve with so-called “landowner conflicts” — an astonishing statement given that there are so few reports and even fewer actual violations of Virginia law.
So what is moving behind the curtain here?
The answer is commercialized hunting where — by example — a private landowner will fence off a few hundred-acre property and drop in exotic animals such as cheetahs, antelope, or other “wild” beasts where you can lean off the deck, blast your prey, and then head inside for a mint julep while the helpful staff butchers and stuffs your prize.
Think that’s too far? Consider what has happened in Georgia, where in order to use hunting dogs, the landowner must have 1,000 contiguous acres of leased property or 250 acres if privately owned.
More problematically, if your dogs should happen to stray onto someone else’s property? Two consecutive violations will have your hunting license revoked by the authorities. A charge of $5.00 per hunting dog per year is required. This among other regulations all serves to push even more people away from hunting, driving up the cost and driving others into the arms of pay-to-pay hunting.
What Terwilliger seems careful to omit is that there have been no less than three hound studies in Virginia since 2007, with this latest effort representing the fourth. In each, the result has been the same — increase the number of game wardens. Terwilliger’s response to this common-sense solution?
“Not going to happen.”
Getting Around Those Pesky Voters Through Regulatory Activism…
Yet when the Virginia General Assembly last attempted to restrict the right to retrieve, hundreds of orange hats lined up between the General Assembly Building and the Virginia State Captial in a turnout that hasn’t been seen since Patrick Henry, cheering their friends and asking opponents to reconsider.
Unable to defeat the VAHDA legislatively, they do what every other Washington insider does — try to defeat Virginia’s largest 2A organization via regulation:
Because there is no need for a new hound study, it looks to be an agenda-driven effort, which is intended to harm hunting with hounds in Virginia to the greatest extent possible. Unable to end the Right-to-Retrieve in the legislature or the courts, the effort returns to the Department of Wildlife Resources. While the DWR can not end the Right-to-Retrieve law, it can pass damaging regulations.
Of course, the VAHDA was an early supporter of Glenn Youngkin, providing the backbone of Sportsmen for Youngkin and posting thousands of signs across rural Virginia.
Someone decided that a personal favor was worth more than the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who went out of their way to support a candidate who promised to defend the Second Amendment.
This morning, Virginia DWR will meet in Henrico County and be met with an army of orange hats — people who supported and now feel betrayed by Youngkin as he seeks presidential aspirations rather than protecting the interests of those who went out on a limb to support him.
Youngkin’s popularity might be a mile wide and keeping the Democrats out of power, but among those who were counting on him to support their interests, Youngkin’s support remains one inch deep.
Already, Youngkin is drawing fire among conservatives for accepting donations to his Spirit of Virginia PAC for being weaker than DeSantis on the right to life. Virginia’s right to retrieve remains in good standing. Whether or not Youngkin has a right to retrieve his reputation among 2A enthusiasts after this debacle is a different matter.