20100618_P1000090Currently in the State of California is a bill to add two free hunting days to the state Fish and Game calendar – which would then match the current two free fishing days. The goal of the bill is the same as the free fishing days – open up opportunities to introduce new people to the sport. The bill is SB 1179, authored by Senate minority leader Dennis Hollingsworth. While Senator Hollingsworth is the sponsor of the bill, this bill started out at booth from the Granite Bay Chapter of SCI during the Salmon Festival in Folsom about 4-5 years ago.

During that event, I was with my 4 year old son to show him the fish and event (he had already been to Africa by this point so he was a veteran of outdoor events). The Granite Bay chapter had a booth, and two members were handing out flyers for their upcoming kids hunting day. I was in the booth talking with them, and two moms walked up and asked if their sons could go to that event. They were informed by the members that they needed a hunting license, and the two turned around and walked away. How many times, and how many events, by how many clubs, has this happened not only in this state, but in the nation? Hundreds of thousands would probably not be stretching it. And what has happened to hunting license sales? Under 200,000 in the state of California last year – and falling.

So I came up with the idea of having Free Hunting days so all the clubs could use that opportunity to introduce people to hunting that actually needed to be introduced to it – the ones without hunting licenses. This would be under controlled conditions – under the direct supervision of an experienced hunter (licensed for at least the last 3 years), a current hunter safety instructor, or other certified trainer such as a licensed FFL holder. The current law to allow for free fishing days does not come with the requirement for supervision – and there were over 71,615 injuries while fishing in 2007 (most current statistics), and 916 (99 fatal) from hunting so they probably need to reverse which one needs supervision, but that is another issue!

This will be simple – contact all the conservation organizations (they all talk on how focused they are to attract new hunters), collect the facts and figures, meet with my senator or assemblyman and we will have a bill. That was 5 years ago. I contacted SCI in DC to help – not interested. I contacted NWTF – not interested. Contacted RMEF – not interested. Contacted NRA – not interested. No one wanted to help get this started. About this time I received an e-mail asking for submissions for articles on why you got into hunting from – The Sierra Club. I saw this was generated by their Washington DC office, and they had a director of the Hunting and Fishing programs – Bart Semcer. I called and told Bart about my idea, and he thought it was a great idea. While the DC office was not in a position to support state legislation, he would put me in touch with the State people who could. I then contacted the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), who was the sponsor of the National Hunting and Fishing Day. I spoke with Larry Keane there who heads up legislative efforts and he thought the free hunting day was a good idea, and he offered to help in any way he could. The NSSF was also working with some other states on “Mentored Hunting” programs – of which today in 2010 there are 30 states that now have some sort of mentored hunting program. This has been wildly successful, resulting in increases in hunting license sales where-ever they have been passed. My Free Hunting Day is slightly different, and I believe would attract a different potential new hunter – someone who does not know someone who hunts who I believe we need to target more.

So, now I had someone to help me gather figures, someone to support the bill, and I started collecting articles from Mother Jones Magazine (!) on how hunting is saving endangered species, as well as from National Geographic on the same subject. OK – now my ducks were in a row (no help from DU here..), all I had to do was meet and we were off.
I met Senator Dave Cox who has attended several SCI dinners, it was a go. And then it was not and now had to wait until next year. Met with Ted Gains. It was a go, and then it was not and now had to wait until next year. Met with Martin Garrick (SCI Member) – should be good. No, can’t carry it. Met with Bill Berryhill – definitely will carry it – great idea. Then two days before yet another bill deadline I get a call from his staff saying they can’t carry it. Now have to wait until next year. Yet I never gave up, every year collecting more figures and data to support the bill. Politicians have term limits – I don’t (unless that is initiated by a Brown Bear in Alaska or a Lion in Cameroon…). By this point I had also added support from the head of the California Game Wardens Association – Jerry Karnow. And this year at the SCI convention in Reno both Jerry and Senator Hollingsworth were in the same round table and other meetings. I spoke with Jerry and the Senator, with Jerry telling me he would tell Senator Hollingsworth it was a good idea from the Wardens point of view.
And this year, finally a bill was introduced to add two free hunting days. It passed the committee hearings 6-3 – with support from the Sierra Club. It got stuck in appropriations, but we got it out. And it passed the full senate by a vote of 28-6. It is currently being assigned in the Assembly. When it does get a committee assignment I will be there with the new sponsor to educate them. I won’t give up. I have since met with Nelson Freeman at SCI in DC, who has referred me to the National Association of Outdoor coalitions so this idea can be presented to all the other states. The meeting is in Dec in Alabama and I will be there to present this. I have met with Bart Semcer of the Sierra Club in DC to ask his support for all the other states – which he has given. And California can actually be in a position to be a pioneer in legislation to attract new hunters that can affect the lives of millions of people. All from a booth at the SCI Granite Bay chapter at the Sacramento Salmon Festival with dad and his 4 year old son who had a idea……..

Submitted by Robert J. Deitz, II of Placerville. Life member SCI, NRA, RMEF, CRPA, El Dorado Rod and Gun Club, NAFC – and others.