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'Cover your deer' bill sparks debate about hunting manners

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - In a place where the right to hunt is in the state constitution, some hunters believe it is poor manners to display dead, bloody animals on their vehicles as they're hauling them home.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - In a place where the right to hunt is in the state constitution, some hunters believe it is poor manners to display dead, bloody animals on their vehicles as they're hauling them home.

Others say the state has no business forcing hunters to throw a tarp over their game when they're traveling down North Dakota's highways.

Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone, said he expected to provoke a debate when he introduced a bill last week that sought to require hunters to cover their game.

But he said he did not anticipate the uproar that ensued, one that he said was so extensive that he withdrew the measure Monday.

"Some of it was even a lot more vitriolic than I ever dreamed it would have been," he said. "I could see no more good coming from continuing it. The discussion had been had. It was quite evident which way the bill was going."


DeKrey, a hunter himself who represents a rural district in central North Dakota, said he had personally witnessed grisly highway scenes during deer season, including one hunter who was haphazardly towing carcasses in a trailer.

"Two does were hanging over the top, and there was blood running down from both of them on the side of the trailer," he said. "I thought, 'What kind of image does that give us?'"

Neither the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies nor the Wildlife Management Institute tracks the number of states that have carcass-covering rules. But Steve Williams, president of the institute and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the nationwide trend in the past couple of decades has been to promote the covering of dead animals, and not just to remove the possibility of offending someone.

"It keeps (the carcass) out of the weather, and you end up with better meat for the table," he said.

In decades past, Williams said, the opposite was true. Many states required hunters to leave their game exposed to combat poaching.

"I can remember in my career eliminating that regulation," said Williams, who worked in state wildlife agencies in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Kansas for 17 years.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would prefer that hunters leave game uncovered because it might bolster PETA's anti-hunting cause, spokesman Bruce Friedrich said.

"We encourage people, if they're going to kill defenseless animals, to parade the animal's carcass all over town, since uncovered bloody carcasses are more likely to wake people up to the cruelties of hunting," he said. "Clearly, covering up cruelty doesn't help animals at all."


In North Dakota, the issue is not one of ethics but of the merits of covering game, and opinions vary even among hunters.

"This is the silliest piece of legislation I've seen yet. It's just plain foolish," Ralph Muecke, of Gladstone, said of DeKrey's proposal. Muecke said he stows his deer carcasses in the back of a pickup to get them home.

While Muecke believes DeKrey's proposal was unnecessary, Mike Paulson, a hunter from the Cass County community of Hunter, said he would not view it as an imposition.

"It wouldn't hurt anything, and would probably keep some people happy," he said.

DeKrey said e-mails he received on the issue were equally divided. "The typical response from opponents ... is, 'I'll take my dead animal anywhere I want and display it anywhere I want,'" he said.

True supporters want to keep hunting viable, DeKrey said. Other supporters want to eliminate disturbing views.

"I got an e-mail from a lady in Minot who said she was tired of her children being traumatized by going down the highway and seeing deer in various states of death," DeKrey said.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has issued a record number of deer gun hunting licenses in two of the past three years, because of a bloated population caused primarily by mild winters. That means more dead deer being hauled on the highways, but department director Terry Steinwand doesn't see it as an image problem.


"It's a North Dakota culture _ hunting, butchering beef, hogs, whatever it might be," he said. "People are so used to ... seeing somebody driving down the road with a deer in the back of a pickup or the back of a trailer."

Steinwand said his department, which took no stance on DeKrey's bill, does not receive complaints from people horrified by the public display of dead game. He also said he does not believe broaching the subject indicates that hunting is less tolerated.

"Looking at license sales, they continue to increase," Steinwand said. "If there's an anti-hunting sentiment out there, we're not hearing it at all."

A telephone survey conducted last fall by the Virgina-based research firm Responsive Management found that 78 percent of Americans approve of legal hunting, compared with 73 percent in 1995.

The percentage of the public that hunts has dropped to its lowest level ever, but Williams said that is attributable to a growing population, more people living in urban areas and people having fewer opportunities to hunt.

"The stronghold in the U.S. is the Midwest," he said. "But it's safe to say that even in North Dakota, hunters are in the minority."

DeKrey wants to ensure it's a respected and not despised minority, and believes hunters themselves can have the biggest influence.

"It's about keeping the testosterone lower when you're going down the highway and showing off your big buck," he said. "Some of it is a little over the top."

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