What Would Hunting Be Without Modern Guns?

posted on November 1, 2023
Father and son hunting
Photo: Windigo

Under a panorama of stars, we spotted a group of wild hogs at the far edge of a winter wheat field. The animals had just entered the field and were drifting in our general direction. They were maybe 500 yards away, and this was a half hour before midnight on a huge cattle ranch in the lower Panhandle of Texas.

It was time to hunt.

The three of us quietly dropped out of a pickup truck and loaded up our gear: suppressed AR-10 rifles chambered in .308 Win. mounted with thermal optics. Each of us grabbed a set of tall shooting sticks. One of us also carried a handheld thermal unit.

The stars overhead twinkled brightly. A steady breeze blew into our faces, so we were sure the hogs wouldn’t smell us. We slipped across the wheat field, taking our time so as not to stumble and alert the hogs. We stopped frequently to scan ahead and to adjust our path to stay on track with the grazing hogs.

About 10 minutes of walking put us within 80 yards. We quietly set up the shooting sticks and got our rifles ready. We whispered one-two-three and opened fire.

Pig pandemonium ensued. The suppressed rifles still made more than enough noise to scare the hogs, some of which ran in circles, while others headed straight away. All of them were squealing and grunting as they ran. We managed to put down five of the pigs, including a big boar I’d found in my thermal scope.

This would be quite the scene to describe to anyone who doesn’t hunt. Given that it took place in the dark, a lot of hunters would also likely find it intriguing. Either way, I would tell anyone who will listen that hunting, including this hunt, is a celebration of many things, including the camaraderie of the hunt, the chance to get our own organic protein and, in this case, an opportunity to control a non-native species that is eating and rooting up a farmer’s crops.

Brian McCombie
The author is shown here in Texas with a pig he took with an AR-10 chambered in .308 Win. and topped with a thermal optic.

Now, it must also be said that, in this nation of ours, hunting is also a celebration of our Second Amendment rights.

True, the Second Amendment was not written to safeguard a right to hunt. It was written into our Constitution as a guarantee of our right to self-determination; it is an acknowledgement that we are—and were meant to be—a truly free people who possess the ability to defend ourselves and our communities.

But without the Second Amendment, and the current fight some, especially members of the NRA, take part in to keep this freedom intact, would Americans have anything like the hunting options and opportunities they enjoy today? Would anyone, for example, be able to hunt with an AR-platform rifle at night, as I did? Would we be able to use suppressors and high-tech thermal optics?

Probably not.

Incredibly, as anti-Second Amendment groups and politicians try to remove this particular civil right, they insist they are not out to stop hunting or hunters; the thing is, as gun-control proponents try for even more restrictions and try to ban ever more guns, they are also attacking our ability to hunt.

Gun-control advocates, including the current resident of the White House, keep insisting that AR-15 and AR-10 rifles have no hunting purposes and that banning these so-called “weapons of war” will greatly reduce violent crime. Both contentions are very easy to prove false. America’s 1st Freedom has provided substantial proof that banning these commonly owned, semi-automatic rifles will do next to nothing to reduce violent crime rates, as these rifles are rarely used in crimes; FBI data, for example, consistently shows that, year after year, rifles of all types are used is less than 3% of murders in the U.S.

Meanwhile, when it comes to today’s hunters, AR-platform rifles are used everywhere hunters can legally use them to hunt. Americans use these popular semi-automatic rifles to hunt small game, coyotes, hogs, deer, bear and all sorts of big-game animals. If, however, citizens can’t legally acquire or own these rifles, then they can’t use this very effective rifle platform for hunting.

Unfortunately, if you are a hunter living in Washington state, your firearm options have recently been further restricted. In 2023, Washington state joined nine other states and the District of Columbia in banning people from acquiring these popular semi-automatic rifles. Washington state’s ban on AR-type rifles doesn’t stop with the “scary” black rifles, either.

According to the text of HB 1240, also illegal now is acquiring any “semi-automatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has one or more of the following: A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor … .”

Pistols manufactured with threaded barrels are increasingly common because the use of suppressors for hearing protection is more popular than ever (and this is legal in 42 states, including Washington). But any Washington state citizen who’d like to try hunting with a suppressed pistol may now have difficulty acquiring a pistol suitable for attaching a suppressor.

Semi-automatic shotguns are also the target of HB 1240, as the ban includes any such shotgun with a “grip that is independent or detached from the stock that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.”

Potentially, many current turkey-hunting shotguns with pistol grips could now be illegal for acquiring in the future. While these shotguns usually have the pistol grip obviously attached as part of the stock, they would seem to protrude “conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.”

Who makes that call? The proverbial nameless and faceless bureaucrat is the best guess.

hunting with semi-auto rifles

It is true that the states that ban AR-type rifles and, perhaps, certain shotguns and pistols (as New York state does), often grandfather in pre-owned firearms that are now banned. In theory, then, hunters in these states could use an AR. Yet one has to wonder if the public stigma created by so much anti-AR propaganda in these states means even these hunters will opt for other, less-vilified firearms.

Indeed, certain types or classes of firearms do not have to be banned for gun controllers to make hunting much, much harder to enjoy. They can do what anti-Second Amendment groups in Oregon are working toward with Measure 114, a ballot initiative.

Oregon voters narrowly passed Measure 114 in 2022. This measure, and the subsequent legislation proposed to implement the measure, will require a permit to purchase a firearm. Getting that permit will require citizens to first complete a firearm training course, among other new criteria; however, the state provides no such training course, and, as this is being written, no existing course meets the new criteria. Purchasers would be required to submit fingerprints and photos to the local sheriff, police chief or the Oregon State Police before requesting that law enforcement conduct a criminal background check. Measure 114, however, sets no requirement or timeframe in which law enforcement must complete this check.

SB 348, the legislation proposed to enact Measure 114, bans magazines with a capacity of greater than 10 rounds of ammunition possessed after a retroactive date and requires citizens to take mandatory training and pay up to $150 in fees, which is significantly higher than the fees voters passed with Measure 114.

As NRA-ILA noted, the bill also “maintains a state registry of gun owners, discriminates against adults aged 18-20 by denying them Second Amendment rights and increases arbitrary delays before citizens can exercise their rights.”

Part of the problem with this legislation (and, perhaps, this is part of the reason it was passed) is it will undoubtedly make it more difficult to recruit new hunters in Oregon to control game populations and to thereby fund wildlife conservation in the state.

Meanwhile, in many states, anti-Second Amendment politicians have made proposals and enacted laws that target America’s youth in what increasingly looks like a purposeful attempt to dissuade people from trying hunting and the shooting sports in general.

hunting with semi-auto rifles
Semi-automatic firearms have been popular with hunters for well over a century. AR-type rifles have been sold to the public since the early 1960s. Varmint hunters first found this to be an ideal platform. Later, as the market responded, big-game hunters began to buy and carry these rifles.

In Colorado, SB 23-169 became law with the signature of Gov. Jared Polis (D) in April of 2023 and went into effect in August 2023. It prohibits young adults 18 to 20 years of age from purchasing firearms. A 19-year-old Colorado adult who wants to buy a .22-caliber rifle to go rabbit hunting will now have to wait a few years.

California took a broader swipe at hunting when state legislators passed AB 2571 in 2020, a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). As the legislation reads: The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the proliferation of firearms to and among minors poses a threat to the health, safety, and security of all residents of, and visitors to, this state ... . Firearms marketing contributes to the unlawful sale of firearms to minors, as well as the unlawful transfer of firearms to minors by adults who may possess those weapons lawfully. This state has a compelling interest in ensuring that minors do not possess these dangerous weapons and in protecting its citizens, especially minors, from gun violence and from intimidation by persons brandishing these weapons.

The Second Amendment might not be about hunting, but hunting is an important use of this civil right.

To stop minors from possessing “these dangerous weapons,” AB 2571 prohibits, “a firearm industry member, as defined, from advertising or marketing any firearm-related product, as defined, in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to minors … . The bill would impose a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for each violation of these provisions, and would authorize a person harmed by a violation to bring suit to recover any damages suffered, as specified.”

In essence, the state made it illegal to market hunting and the shooting sports to California’s youth. This includes doing so in print, on television and via social media.

As Michael Jean, director of the Office of Litigation for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), explained at the time the law was initially challenged, “The real problem that AB 2571 poses is that its broad scope and vaguely defined terms are designed to prevent the next generation from participating in hunting and the shooting sports. It outlaws content concerning the ‘use’ of a firearm or firearm accessory that a minor may find attractive.”

(As this magazine was going to print, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling allowing an injunction against the law’s enforcement, pending the resolution of one of several legal challenges to the constitutionality of the law.)

Massachusetts politicians, meanwhile, introduced a sweeping gun-control package in June 2023 in the form of HD 4420, “An Act Modernizing Firearm Laws,” which has the potential to devastate hunting in the state if the Act becomes law. Among the bill’s many and very sweeping provisions, the Act would ban possessing any gun, loaded or unloaded, on any private property unless the owner has provided express consent or has posted signage allowing firearms on their property.

The legislation is so poorly drafted that hunters wouldn’t be allowed to hunt on their own property unless they post it as open to carrying firearms. The bill is so twisted that it calls into question where any hunter would be allowed to carry a firearm in the state on both private and public property. All public property would have to be specifically posted to allow hunters to legally carry a firearm to hunt.

Additionally, the Act would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to acquire or carry any semi-automatic rifle or shotgun. Likewise, anyone under the age of 15 could not take part in any shooting sports or any shooting sports training, so hunter education would therefore be off-limits for anyone under 15 years old.

hunting with semi-auto riflesInterestingly, the Massachusetts’ Division of Fisheries and Wildlife website advertises an impressive slate of youth hunts for deer, pheasant, turkey and waterfowl. It notes that the hunting opportunities are specifically designed for youth aged 12 to 17. The pheasant and turkey hunts specifically require young hunters to already have their hunter-education certificates.

Yet, if passed, HD 4420 would make it impossible for any youth to actually attend these hunts.

Lawsuits are challenging the above laws, while organizations like your NRA are working to stop these anti-Second Amendment proposals. The Second Amendment may not be specifically about hunting, but hunting and hunters are an important part of the use of this civil right, and we hunters are a critical constituency in this fight.

The bottom line here is if we are going to keep our hunting traditions alive and to bring new generations into the fold, we must have a strong and vibrant Second Amendment.



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