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The answer: the Virginia legislature did, that’s who.
Landowners, many of them hunters, actually, say the time has come for Virginia to do away with its unique, decades-old “right-to-retrieve” law, which allows hunters to go on privately owned property to retrieve their dogs. Under the law, hunters are allowed to enter without permission to retrieve a stray hound, so long as no weapons are carried.
In a state considered to be the American birthplace of hunting with hounds, George Washington’s favorite sport has become a target for some landowners who say baying dogs and their owners are trampling property rights. Several individuals have already gone to court because of unwanted hunters and dogs on their land. For example, Curt Lytle, a professional bass fisherman and avid bow hunter, filed a lawsuit in Isle of Wright County after a pack of dogs ran onto his land and scared his two young daughters. Lytle said he just wants to be left alone so that his family can enjoy the 100-plus-acres of wildlife retreat that he has built for them. “It makes no sense to me at all that I don’t have the right to keep people off my land,” he said.
The law became such a hot-button issue last year that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries initiated a study– “Hunting with Hounds in Virginia: A Way Forward“– to try to come up with solutions to the mounting complaints coming from Virginia property owners. Bob Duncan, executive director of the game department, said that increasing problems prompted the study, which was an effort to keep the issue from being settled in the General Assembly. “We want solutions that will work in Virginia. We want solutions that hopefully will make all sides happy,” he said. “And we want to do everything we can to preserve the tradition of hound hunting.”
Hunters say they are worried that the study marks the beginning of the end for hound hunting. Hunting with hounds in Virginia dates back to nearly 400 years ago with the founding of Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among its earliest enthusiasts, and John Randolph, a Virginia congressman in the early nineteenth century, was known to enter the House of Representatives with a pack of hounds at his heels.
But sporting fun aside, the question remains: Does Virginia’s “right-to-retrieve” law constitute a violation of the Constitution? More specifically, does a state law that allows hunters, with their hounds in tow, to run rampant on property that is clearly posted “private” constitute an impermissible taking of property without just compensation? The question has yet to be answered, but the issue will likely continue to pit landowners against hound advocates until Virginia courts decide to take up the issue.
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