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Preston Robertson says he gave up hunting on his land in Gadsden County because other hunters' dogs would chase the deer off of it.

And Howard Kent of Chipley suspects that his grandmother's former home was burned down by hunters who he had filed charges against for running dogs across his land.

Both men are hunters, but they say the state should do more to limit the conflicts between landowners and hunters who use dogs.

"I don't want to keep people from hunting with dogs - that's not what I'm about," Kent said. "I just want them to leave me alone."

In response to the conflict and complaints, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission today is considering requiring hunters in Northwest Florida to have a permit to use dogs while hunting on private land - a permit that can be revoked if dogs stray from the property twice in a year. The commission meets today in Tallahassee.

The proposal, which is described as a pilot project that could be expanded to the rest of the state next year, faces opposition from dog hunters and some elected officials. The agency estimates there are 20,000 to 30,000 hunters who use dogs, but a hunting group estimates there are 75,000 to 85,000 of those hunters.

State Rep. Will Kendrick, D-Carrabelle, said he is against the proposal.

"I've dog hunted since I could walk," he said in an e-mail. "I am not willing to allow just a few people to take it away."

Forty-one states have banned deer hunting with dogs, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Of the nine Southeastern states that do allow the practice, only Florida and Mississippi allow hunting with dogs statewide on private lands, the agency said.

The other states that allow the practice, including Georgia, have closed some counties to hunting with dogs. Georgia requires at least 1,000 acres of land to use dogs for hunting.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission proposes requiring a separate permit to hunt with dogs on private land from Jefferson County west to Escambia County. The use of dogs on public lands, such as state and national forests, is not addressed in the proposed rule.

The permit would be issued to the landowner, and no more than one permit could be issued for each parcel. If a dog left the parcel more than twice in one year, the permit would be revoked for two years.

Hunters who use dogs say the proposal penalizes all who use the property without penalizing the few hunters who are causing the problem.

But Robertson and Kent said that hunters shouldn't use dogs if they can't keep them off others' property. Both of them hunt without dogs, waiting quietly for deer to come to them rather than chasing them with dogs.

Robertson said he and his wife own 80 acres in Gadsden County that they haven't been able to hunt on despite buying it for that reason 10 years ago.

"You would get in your stand and a bunch of deer dogs would run through - you might as well not even have come out," he said. "The deer dogs run for miles. They are running over everybody's property."

Kent said that after he charged a hunter with running his dogs across his property, nails were put in his driveway and his dogs disappeared. The vacant home of his late grandmother that he was restoring was burned in a Saturday night fire.

A fire marshal's report didn't find the cause of the fire, Kent said, but he believes it was arson. He said neighboring landowners are afraid to speak out against dog-hunters because they also fear retaliation.

"I can name several people who have had wood fires and grass fires, that kind of stuff," Kent said. "That is sufficient to intimidate people that if you mess with them (hunters) they will burn you out."

Rusty McKeithen, president of the Florida Dog Hunters and Sportsmen's Association, said some claims of retaliation are being investigated by his group members and may be exaggerated, but he said he didn't have details.

"What has happened in the past, I can't really comment one way or another," he said. "There is just a lot of murky stuff going on."

A Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman said the continuing complaints were enough to require the proposal as an alternative to putting an end to hunting with dogs.

"It's time to take this more dramatic step to preserve the tradition of dog hunting in Florida," said agency spokesman Henry Cabbage. "We just have to regulate it tighter."

The proposal, McKeithen said, would penalize a hunter whose dog is walking down a public road even if it isn't creating a problem.

Hunters for two years could lose the freedom to hunt with dogs - and the landowners couldn't lease their land to other hunters - because of problems created by one hunter with dogs, McKeithen said.

"The proposal that staff has put forward basically we think within a few years would shut dog hunting down," he said.

He said Tuesday that dog hunters want the Legislature to create a new licensing system that would punish individual hunters with repeat offenses. An agency official said the commission is considering such a system and will discuss it today.

Robertson and Kent said they're not trying to end hunting with dogs. But their rights to use their land also should be respected.

"I used to dog hunt," Robertson said. "But you can't do it any more like it's been done. The world has changed."


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