Appeals Court Overturns Blackwater ‘Deer Dog’ Hunting Ruling

April 11, 2018

A divided appeals court Tuesday overturned a ruling that would have forced state game officials to rein in “deer dog” hunting that some Northwest Florida residents argue has infringed on their property and created a nuisance.

The ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal came after a long-running legal battle involving the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and people who own property adjoining the state Blackwater Wildlife Management Area.

“Deer dog” hunting, as the name implies, involves hunters using dogs to flush out deer and has long been allowed in the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area. But the legal battle stems from hunters and dogs trespassing on adjoining private land, with property owners alleging they have been threatened by hunters and have been subject to other problems such as graffiti and arson.

Property owners filed a lawsuit in 2016, seeking to prevent deer-dog hunting in the wildlife-management area. The lawsuit included what is known as a “takings claim” — essentially arguing that the deer-dog problems were so serious that they were depriving the owners from enjoying their property, according to Tuesday’s ruling. Also, the lawsuit sought an injunction to require the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “abate” the nuisance on the private property.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers denied a request by the commission for summary judgment that would have scuttled the case and issued an injunction requiring the commission to abate the problem. The commission took the dispute to the 1st District Court of Appeal, where a majority of the three-judge panel Tuesday rejected the injunction and sent the case back for entry of summary judgment in favor of the commission.

In part, the majority opinion said a successful takings claim would require property owners to show that the commission required them to submit to a permanent occupation of their land or that a commission regulation imposed a condition that “deprived them of all economically beneficial use of their land.”

“Here, appellees (the property owners) do not, and cannot, allege that the FWC (the commission) has forced them to submit to a permanent physical occupation of their land,” said the majority opinion, written by appeals-court Judge Lori Rowe and joined by Chief Judge Brad Thomas. “The alleged physical occupation — i.e., sporadic trespasses by deer dog hunters and their dogs during the 44 days of the year when deer dog hunting is authorized — is transitory, not permanent. And the handful of trespasses that have occurred on each of appellees’ individual properties do not rise to the level of a permanent, physical occupation of appellees’ property.”

The opinion added: “Neither do the appellees allege that the FWC has deprived them of all economically beneficial use of their property. Rather, appellees allege that they were deprived of their right to exclude people from their property during deer dog hunting season. But this allegation ignores the fact that appellees are free to exclude the deer dog hunters and dogs from their property by pursuing criminal or civil remedies against the trespassing hunters and owners of the deer dogs. The FWC has not deprived appellees of any right to pursue the third-party wrongdoers.”

Rowe also wrote that sovereign immunity — a legal concept that helps shield government agencies from lawsuits — blocked nuisance-related claims in the lawsuit.

But Judge Joseph Lewis Jr. wrote a 13-page dissent arguing that Gievers’ ruling should be upheld.

In part, Lewis wrote that “appellees should be permitted to pursue their claims that appellant’s (the commission’s) alleged failure to regulate or exercise control over deer dog hunters and their dogs has created a nuisance. While, as stated, appellant’s decision to allow deer dog hunting in the Blackwater WMA is a discretionary or planning-level decision, appellant offers no legitimate reason why it should not then be responsible for ensuring that hunters and their dogs are not creating a nuisance for adjacent property owners.”

The wildlife-management area is in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties. The ruling said private property is interspersed in the wildlife-management area, which it described as a “patchwork-like composition” that stems from how the state buys land for conservation and recreational purposes

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida


20 Responses to “Appeals Court Overturns Blackwater ‘Deer Dog’ Hunting Ruling”

  1. Uncle Buck on April 15th, 2018 3:01 pm

    Sounds to me that the people that bought the land in and by a Wildlife Management Area, could be the same ones that are anti hunting and anti 2nd Amendment.
    Could/Would the land have been bought just to shut down something that they don’t want /like?
    Just a thought for you to ponder.

  2. MB on April 15th, 2018 10:14 am

    One of these land owners used to hunt with dogs back in the day and knows for a fact that dogs can’t read DO NOT TREPASS Signs and are only doing what they are trained to do and that’s run after an animal no matter who owns the land. Not siding for the dog hunters because they too should respect the law and others and the right to access their land and not cross over into that land that they don’t have the rights to be on. It’s all about respect and that’s what every hunter needs to practice. Respect for each other including those who own the land in question in this suit.

  3. Ducks in a pond on April 12th, 2018 9:28 pm

    Dog hunting deer is for folks who are too lazy to scout and stalk like a true hunter. Real hunters scout and stalk the woods for months prior to the season. Dog hunters drive up in their trucks, release the hounds and shoot at everything that runs. Might as well drive around at night shining and shoot deer from the road. Oh wait, those are the same folks.

  4. Mary on April 12th, 2018 12:33 pm

    Grand Locust that’s Wisconsin. This is Florida. I agree with James. Transplants need to realize that this is a sport. Also, deer are not birds. Bird dogs merely point at a bird and retrieve it after it is shot. That’s it! Cudos to the bird hunters but hound dogs run and find the deer and then they attempt to run as fast as the deer. It’s an awesome and intense sport that should be respected. EMD… BOO HOO!!

  5. K.Smith on April 12th, 2018 11:51 am

    Dog hunting is a tradition, has been for hundreds of years . Back when EVERYBODY deer hunted with dogs you rarely ever had a problem among hunters. Kids were raised with a responsibility, they had to feed & water dogs daily , go to the woods & train the dogs . This day & age people dont want the responsibility of feeding , watering , housing , caring for & vet expenses that comes along with hunting with dogs . Deer dog hunters are hunting the orginal sporting way of hunting. Now … all these people that HATE deer dog hunting & always want it banned from all the states , why do yall buy a small partial of land rite in the middle of thousands of acres that’s been deer dog hunted for a hundred years & then start fussing about it ? Its illegal to hunt deer over ( in some states) bait & to kill them after dark , but 95% of non deer dog hunters are guilty of one or both . Its illegal to sale deer, buy deer or keep them in a pen . But somehow that has become a thing that the ” rich ” folk have found a loop hole in , and they are wanting dog deer hunting banned so everybody will pay mega money to shoot a deer in their high fence . I agree some deer dog hunters need to keep a little better handle on their dogs ( as I do ) but why should deer dog hunters have their heritage & traditions taken from them just because the people in the world today are too lazy to care for deer dogs . One other thing, why is it when the states have a ” dog deer ” hunt , that all of the ” deer dog haters” show up on all of the hunts wanting to get on a good stand & shoot a deee in front of somebody’s dogs ?? Seems to me that it makes you a hypocrite & makes all your complaints from the past void .

  6. Grand Locust on April 12th, 2018 9:41 am

    Wisconsin is the biggest Deer hunting state in the United States….they close the state to deer hunt. My father would travel to Wisconsin for a chance to hunt deer, but if you think a Wisconsin person would be ok living next to Blackwater and having trespassers on their property. Nope. Good hunters do not trespass. Good hunters who use dogs control those dogs, and train those dogs. A friend hunting pheasant lost his dog as a pellet found his temple and he was a broken man and cried for days. I get the relationship and training, but dog hunting deer?…….sorry that is lazy hunting and like fast food at Mac’s an easy answer. I have never heard of a trained bird dog trespassing and breaking the cardinal rule of hunting……respect private property. I have lived a lifetime of people telling me I am a bad person for hunting, and my answer has always been are those leather shoes and a belt?…..but I never trespassed, and when bird hunting with dogs, but those dogs never leave our sight and they follow all commands. There are probably eight states who still allow dog hunting deer, and to me it is like fishing with dynamite, and then when somebody complains I blew up their dock…..the courts are going to say……well it is only for 45 days.

  7. Christian on April 12th, 2018 7:08 am

    Commonsense would not allow someone to judge another for the use of dogs to hunt. It is a longstanding tradition. They are not “lazy hunters” nor can they all be stereotyped as a group. Banning K-9 hunting because of an issue with some people is the same irrational thinking that would tell someone to ban guns because a person didn’t act responsibly using one.

    Irresponsible dog owners should be held accountable for their actions, not the entire community of people who hunt with K-9’s. This is common sense.

  8. EMD on April 12th, 2018 1:05 am

    One night, my husband and I were sitting on our front porch when hunters were on the land adjoining ours with their dogs. My husband had posted “POSTED” signs on that land for the owners. The hunters did not respect that. My husband yelled at me to get his shotgun. It had one desired effect (which was the point)…………..they ran, and LEFT their poor dogs. Nice. NOT ! ! ! I believe it was animal cruelty.. I also believe, personally that hunting deer or any animal with dogs is unsportsmanlike and very unfair to the deer.

  9. Beagle Runner on April 11th, 2018 9:33 pm

    Hey y’all just keep killing them on food plots and over corn and us dog hunters will do what we do. Thanks for your opinions. I will dog hunt just like y’all still hunters do what you do. Thanks to the FWC for staying with us.

  10. Eric on April 11th, 2018 8:06 pm

    Here’s the deal. Blackwater management area and dog hunting have been around for a very long time. Most of the people complaining about dog hunting haven’t lived in or around the management area their whole life. Some have and may not like it but, when you buy property in the middle of Blackwater you are going to have issues with dogs and people trespassing on your property may it be by accident or intentionally. At least with the dog hunters if you can hear the dog you can find the hunter. You have to know what you are getting yourself into. I totally agree that everyone has the right to their privacy and should be able to regulate who accesses their property. But the last time I checked dogs haven’t learned to read yet.

  11. phillip on April 11th, 2018 7:23 pm

    Frank, Blackwater River State Forest is not a ” Hunting Reserve”

  12. Scott on April 11th, 2018 3:05 pm

    For as long as I can remember dog hunting has been apart of me, many generations of my family have always dog hunted. It’s a tradition that many people don’t understand there is no better bond than between a man and his hounds. They are like family and they love to hunt way more than the hardest hunter that comes to your mind they live for it. As far as dog hunters being “lazy” try waking up at 3:00 every morning for 44 days in a row looking for a good buck track to turn loose on at daylight, beating around on bumpy roads all day until dark, then getting home and doing everything you have to do and doing it all over again. I don’t know of a single still hunter that would sit all day in a tree for 44 days in a row. I am not downing still hunters at all because I also still hunt, but a deer has more of a fighting chance to escape hounds running him than walking out and eating corn in front of a still hunter with a rifle. Countless hours go into being a dog hunter feeding hounds, doctoring hounds, training hounds, conditioning hounds and it is all well worth the 44 day deer dog season we all look forward to so much, spending times with family and friends and our hounds, a successful hunt is just a bonus! A lot of kids enjoy deer dog hunting as well, I remember as a kid I was more excited about the first day of dog hunting than I was about Christmas or my birthday. People think that we harm our hounds because they chase deer, but they are athletes that’s like being mad at a basketball coach for coaching a basketball team. With the new GPS tracking systems we run on our hounds it has helped a lot, yes there may be a few occasions where the hound gets “out of pocket” and pursues a deer onto adjoining property but that is a very rare occurrence since the new GPS units have came out. No deer dog hunter that truly cares about our sport would purposely send his hounds onto private property or even close to private property, much less damage or vandalize any private property. The people who own private property in any state forest knew where they were buying land and have no room to complain about it. That would be like moving by a helicopter field and complaining about the noise. Dog hunters do a lot, Forrest cleanups, fundraisers, charity events, and they keep the kids involved. Just my two cents but I am happy with the courts decision and good lord willing we will keep the tradition alive!

  13. James on April 11th, 2018 1:56 pm

    So a “transplant” moved into a deer hunting area and then complained about deer hunting. That sounds similar to a northerner moving to the beach and complaining about the tourist. Get over it or move back to where you originally came from. You shouldn’t expect people to change their way of life to please you. The hunters pay good money to be able to hunt and the hounds are trained to trail. LET THEM TRAIL

  14. nod on April 11th, 2018 1:12 pm

    If it was me I would go camp out in the backyard and all these judges same thing see how they like it

  15. Andrew hicks on April 11th, 2018 12:27 pm

    No reason a MAN, WOMAN OR CHILD,, can’t go sit in woods by himself and kill a deer ,,I hear dog hunters say it’s our heritage,,,it not a heritage it’s a PRIVILEGE, ,That’s why you have to buy a licsence,, only 9 States still allow this 2 of which have no whitetail population so 7 states remain to carry on this unethical harassment of wildlife.It’s way pass time to put an end to this,,the disrespect of people’s land,,,disrespect of other hunters ,,the harassment of wildlife and the abuse of the dogs,,I quit hunting with dogs 40 years I know what goes on ……

  16. Justin J on April 11th, 2018 11:21 am

    FRANKY BOY – I already see you follow the government like a goat follows the Judas to the slaughter! I tell you what Frunk… what if someone sat on your front lawn and shot all the squirrels and….. oh never mind, you probably live on someone else’s property!

  17. just sayin on April 11th, 2018 9:34 am

    I am a hunter. I am all for enjoying deer hunting whether still hunting or dog hunting. But I am siding with the private land owner. If they don’t want you or your dogs on there property then this should be the end of the story. If you cant control your dogs then don’t take a chance and hunt the land adjacent to them. Quit while you are ahead now while you can still enjoy running your dogs or continue and be shut down all together.

  18. Grand Locust on April 11th, 2018 9:31 am

    Dog hunting deer? You have to be kidding. Lazy hunters who infringe on private property rights get a pass, and private property rights under the 5th and 14th amendment get thrown out the window by judges who lack common sense. If the blackwater management people allowed BP to drill on the property, and oil was spilling onto adjacent private property, do you really think they would be saying, oh……no problem it is only a 45 day period each year that the oil spills on your property. My father in his old age walked the woods hunting deer without a dog which was unheard of back in the fifties and sixties. I get hunting bird with dogs, but those dogs are controlled and trained. Somebody has to engage their brains.

  19. Frank on April 11th, 2018 8:46 am

    Justin, These folks bought this property 6 years ago in the middle of a HUNTING RESERVE?

  20. Justin J on April 11th, 2018 7:14 am

    I hate that people in this country don’t actually own their own property! The government has TOTAL control and will allow such infringement to occur! I’ve had similar interactions with these dog hunters in my area in Alabama! Death threats were sent from an unknown source that if my dog continued to interfere with their “hunting” that he would vanish, and he did! No proof if one of these “sport” hunters shot my dog but I’ve already started an investigation on their criminal actions of animal abuse towards dogs,that they neglect from nutrition and shelter. These hunters have another thing coming because they have started a hunt they can’t kill!!

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