It’s just after dawn, and the woods are drowsily still. The sunlight filters through the trees, and the croon of the mourning dove gently shakes the world awake. There’s movement in the tall grass up ahead. With a breath and a bang, Missie Schneider has her dinner.
Schneider, a 42-year-old Gainesville resident, is president of the Gator Gobblers, the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and she is just one out of many hunters who want to protect the right to hunt and fish in Florida.
On April 28, the Florida Senate passed House Bill 1157, a bill that protects the rights of hunters and fishers by adding an amendment to the Florida Constitution.
Schneider, leader of the Gator Gobblers for 12 years, supports the amendment and hopes it will encourage more people to learn about the positive aspects of hunting and fishing. Hunting brings her peace, she said.
“I enjoy just going and sitting in a tree and being at one with nature,” Schneider said.
HB 1157 intends to “preserve forever fishing, hunting, and the taking of fish and wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, as a public right and preferred means of managing and controlling fish and wildlife.”
The proposed amendment will be added to the November 2024 state ballot. If Florida voters pass the bill, it will be added to the Florida Constitution.
The consideration of the bill came after several states such as Oregon, Washington and New Mexico attempted to ban hunting and fishing after an animal-rights activist filed a petition to criminalize animal abuse.
However, the proposed bill in these states would have made the intentional killing of an animal, including deer, fish and even cows for agricultural uses, illegal. Seeing the danger a bill like this could pose to Florida agriculture and ecosystems, the legislature sought to preemptively protect the right to hunt and fish.
Officers signed and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd filed the bill June 21.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, has a long history prioritizing Florida’s environmental resources. He has supported using hunting as a means of conservation and maintaining healthy wildlife populations.
Victoria Mohebpour, senior legislative assistant for Senator Jason Brodeur, said the Florida Legislature believes hunting and fishing is vital to Florida ecology and economy.
“The legislature wants to recognize this tradition and make clear that hunting is conservation,” Mohebpour said.
It will not change any current hunting or fishing practices, and hunters will still be required to abide by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations.
The Florida Legislature simply wants to constitutionally protect hunting and fishing in perpetuity, Mohebpour said.
While some hunters, like William Handley, a 69-year-old Gainesville resident, think it’s nice the government wants to protect the rights of hunters, they also don’t believe it will change much.
“I don't think, had they passed it or not passed, it would have made much difference to the people that want to hunt,” Handley said.
Handley grew up hunting and fishing. On any given day, he can be found in the shoot accessory aisle of Bass Pro Shops. On July 26, he prepared for a family trip west to hunt his favorite: elk.
Like Schneider, Handley feels most at peace when he’s hunting.
“That's sort of like my church,” he said. “When I'm in the woods or in the water, I'm out in God's creation.”
Ron Johnson, a 55-year-old Newberry resident, didn’t know about the possible addition of the new amendment. However, he thinks it is a great idea to protect hunting and fishing, especially since it can help those who are financially challenged find good food to eat, he said.
He also believes diverse wildlife in the area makes it a great place for people to explore.
“The area is full of different types of wildlife and you got a lot of areas to fish, got a lot of areas to hunt,” Johnson said. “And if you like good country living, Gainesville, North Central Florida is the area,” he said.
He goes fishing at least five days a week, and thanks to Florida’s variety of ecosystems, he gets to explore new places. He has gone fishing nearby at Newnans Lake, Santa Fe River and has traveled to Cedar Key. It’s his pastime, and it’s how he gets through most days, he said.
“Let people enjoy fishing,” Johnson said. “This is part of God's country.”
But there’s more to hunting than simply enjoying nature. An important part of the bill is recognizing the role hunting and fishing play in conservation.
J.C. Griffin, a 48-year-old Gainesville resident, has been fishing since he was a kid. He and his dad would go on charter boats and spend hours in the blazing sun, battling snapper from the deep blue.
People travel from across the country to hunt on Florida public land that would otherwise be available for development if it wasn’t protected by the hunting economy, Griffin said.
Hunting and fishing also help keep animal populations at a healthy level, he said.
“In the long run, it's a huge net positive for wildlife,” Griffin said.
While he understands animal rights activists mean well, he sees a bigger picture.
“They have big hearts,” he said. “They're looking at the individual animal. They don't want the individual animal to suffer.”
However, he hopes people understand hunters are compassionate as well. A majority operate under the strictest guidelines set by the FWC like only hunting during specific seasons and maintaining certain bag limits, which restrict the amount of a specific animal a hunter can take.
“We see ourselves as the ultimate stewards of the land,” Griffin said. “We deeply care about this land... We want wildlife to thrive.”
Griffin also recognizes there are some hunters who do not follow FWC standards, but he hopes that people still respect the role that good hunters play in the food chain.
“As hunters, we are more than observers. We choose to play an active role,” Griffin said. “I would argue that we have way more compassion, way more love. And wildlife is so much more meaningful to us.”
Marcus Rojas contributed to this report.
Contact Aubrey at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @aubreyyrosee.
Aubrey Bocalan is a third-year journalism major. She is also pursuing a double major in Art. When she isn't writing, she's probably watching TV with her dog, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Bocalan.