South Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment yesterday (Nov. 2), assuring the right of citizens to hunt and fish.

"Tuesday was a banner day for South Carolinians devoted to our outdoors," said Ben Gregg, executive director of the S.C. Wildlife Federation and coordinator for the Camo Coalition, an umbrella organization of some two-dozen organizations that pushed for passage of the amendment.

"The overwhelming 89-percent 'Yes' vote that puts the right to hunt and fish in the state constitution shows that our outdoor heritage is cherished by citizens throughout the state and across political, racial and geographical lines. The message from voters could not have been clearer," Gregg said.

Noting that hunting and fishing are valuable parts of the state's heritage and important for conservation and a protected means of managing non-threatened wildlife, the amendment provides that South Carolina citizens shall "have the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife traditionally pursued, subject to laws and regulations promoting sound wildlife conservation and management as prescribed by the General Assembly; and to specify that this section must not be construed to abrogate any private property rights, existing state laws or regulations, or the state's sovereignty over its natural resources."

South Carolina was one of three states that passed "right to hunt" amendments Nov. 2, joining 10 other states that already have such constitutional protections for those traditions, including Vermont, which declared hunting a right in 1777. Arizona voters rejected a similar proposition in the election.

The Camo Coalition, which lobbied to get the amendment on the ballot, includes a variety of organizations including the Wildlife Federation, the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), Trout Unlimited, the S.C. Forestry Association and the Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund.

Leaders of those groups hailed the passage of the amendment.

"I am very excited that this amendment has passed," said Chip Salak of Cayce, president of the S.C. State Chapter of QDMA. "The tradition of hunting and fishing has been around since the beginning of time, mainly as a source of providing food for every day living. In today's time, it not only serves that purpose but also is a form of recreation for all walks of life. It is a tradition that can be passed on from one generation to another as well as a steady source of revenue for the state of South Carolina."

The animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, campaigned against passage of the amendment. Before the election, Ryan Huling, a spokesman for the group, "We think there are so many better ways to enjoy nature than killing a piece of it."

However, Larry Bachman of Sandy Run, chairman of the Central Carolina Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, said the vote was a repudiation of extremist anti-hunting and animal rights groups.

"I was overwhelmed with the tremendous mandate the citizens of South Carolina gave to the hunters and sportsmen and sportswomen of this state. This truly shows that hunting is a heritage given to us by our parents and this assures that our future generations will have the same opportunities that we have now," he said.

"In this age of doing only what is 'politically correct'- and with PETA trying their best to circumvent and stop our rights to go afield - this mandate will show them where the great majority stands in this state. Our citizens are not a silent, but very vocal majority that is ready to stand up to the animal rights movement and show them that we are the people that truly have the best interests of conservation at hand."

The state's major newspapers weighed in on the issue before the election, with the Charleston Post & Courier and the Spartanburg Herald-Journal urging passage, while The State in Columbia opposed passage in its lead editorial a week before the election, saying its inclusion would "clutter" the constitution.

Now that the voters have spoken - loudly - the legislature must now reaffirm the vote, a foregone conclusion since legislators in both houses approved proposing the amendment nearly unanimously.