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GUEST COLUMN: We all have the right to our beliefs

I think everyone knows that the American flag stands for freedom, which was fought for by the men and women in the armed forces. That freedom also ensures the right to pursue happiness. This includes your choice of religion and political views. To be a hunter or a non-hunter, to join any organization and to be passionate in what you like; even though there are those who may oppose.

I would like to share a story with you regarding those that did just that and I hope it makes you smile, just like it did me.

The other day I was filling my truck at a gas station near interstate 80, when a van drove in and parked at the pump next to me. This was no ordinary van, this was the extended version, white in color and painted on both sides and on the back was of chickens; not only chickens, but chickens in jail. I had a pretty good idea what this was, but since there were no writings on the side I meandered to the back of the van. There in big bold letters was P.E.T.A. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). This organization may help abused dogs and cats, but they are also very anti-hunting. I then walked inside the gas station and paid the attendant.

While walking back to my truck, the woman sitting in the passenger seat of the van said "Hi, how y'all doing?" I responded back "Hi, how are you doing" and stepped over to her door. I am not judging anyone, for who am I to do that, but I would like to give you a visual; again I am not judging.

Sitting in the driver’s seat was a young man and of course the young woman in the passenger seat. They both looked to be in their mid-20s and were very polite, as they informed me that they were from the Carolinas. The two of them were nice looking, but the young woman was extremely pretty. Both of them had many piercings on their faces which included their eyebrows nose and lips. The woman also had a ring hanging between her nostrils. But what caught my eye was the young man's earlobes. He apparently had them stretched to fit a gauge (a various size plug) into his lobes, but the gauges weren't there and his earlobes were hanging down at least two inches with large holes. Again I am not judging, just a visual.

As I stood by the passenger door, I had to ask why there were paintings on their van of chickens in jail. They both informed me that they were proud members of P.E.T.A. and were driving across America to teach about animal abuse, encourage anti-hunting and to promote P.E.T.A. itself. I told them, I was glad they had so much passion in what they believe in. I then explained that I was willing to go to war to fight for freedom, which included their beliefs and passion, even if I did or did not agree. The two of them were beaming and had smiles on their faces, just like kids on Christmas morning. They then thanked me and told me how nice I was, in their slow southern drawl.

I then wished them well on their endeavors, even though I didn't necessarily agree; but I didn't tell them that, yet. I then asked if I could tell them something about myself, followed by a question. Their faces were still beaming as they looked at each other and answered, of course.

I informed them, that I was not only a lifelong hunter and an Illinois state hunter safety instructor, but that I was the founder/organizer of two separate sportsman shows, the La Salle County Sportsman Hall of Fame and an author regarding "A History of Wildlife Conservation in the U.S." I then asked the question, would you go to war and fight for freedom, which includes my beliefs and my passion.

Their smiles began to fade fast, but they did not answer me. I asked them again as their heads began to lower. They now looked quite sad, like kids being told Christmas was canceled. I asked for a third time and with their heads hanging low, they muttered, I guess so. The only thing shining on their once beaming faces was their piercings.

I felt kind of bad for them, even though they were against hunting. I then reached my hand out and shook both of their hands and told them to hold onto their passion, for I am going to do the same. I reminded them, this is a big country with many different beliefs and we all have that right to pursue it even if the next person doesn't agree; because we live in a land of the free and home of the brave.

Before I walked away, I left them with one of my quotes: "Hunting is very important to conservation and conservation is very important to America."

For the record:

—Six percent of Americans are hunters. A small percent of those are women, with numbers rising.

—Between six and seven percent of Americans belong to anti-hunting organizations, with numbers rising as well. A high percent of those are women in large urban areas.

–-All 50 states have a mandated hunters education safety course.

—Also all 50 states have the Hunters Interference Act aka: Hunters Harassment Law; to protect hunters in the fields and woods and anglers on the water, from those that oppose.

—Seventy-five percent of all money generated is funded by hunters, fisherman and trappers.

—For a copy of my book, "A History of Conservation in the Continental U.S." contact Hank Walsh 815-434-4077.

HANK WALSH III is a lifelong Ottawa resident.

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