Wisconsin “Hunter Harassment Law” Ruled Unconstitutional by Appeals Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit deems Wisconsin’s law vague and overly broad, violating First Amendment rights

In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has declared Wisconsin’s “hunter harassment law” unconstitutional. The law, which criminalized intentional interference with hunters, was found to be vague and overly broad, infringing upon the First Amendment rights of individuals and organizations opposed to hunting. The court’s decision comes after a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs associated with Wolf Patrol, a group that monitors and documents hunting activities on public lands to ensure compliance with state regulations. This ruling raises important questions about the balance between hunting rights and freedom of expression.

Encounters and Harassment: A Clash of Perspectives

The plaintiffs in the case, members of Wolf Patrol, found themselves at odds with hunters and law enforcement officers during their monitoring and documenting activities. These encounters included repeated stops for questioning by law enforcement and harassment by hunters. One particularly significant incident involved a large group of hunters surrounding the plaintiffs with their trucks, effectively barricading them in until law enforcement arrived. The hunters verbally abused the Wolf Patrol members, using foul language and making threats of physical violence. In a disturbing turn of events, one hunter even used his truck to repeatedly bump a member of the Wolf Patrol. Law enforcement was called to the scene, leading to further questioning of the plaintiffs.

Seizure of Filming Equipment and Legal Battle

During the confrontation, one of the plaintiffs, Brown, had been filming the events. Law enforcement seized all of Brown’s filming equipment, including cameras, memory cards, a microphone, and a cellphone. Deputies informed Brown that they would be seeking a warrant to search his footage. Twelve days later, a warrant was obtained, allowing law enforcement to search Brown’s devices and view his film footage. The warrant application stated that Brown’s footage could potentially provide evidence of violations of Wisconsin’s hunter harassment law. However, after reviewing the recordings, the district attorney declined to bring charges. It took approximately seven months for Brown’s equipment and recordings to be returned to him.

The Unconstitutional Amendment

In July 2017, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the amendment. They argued that the law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, leading to a chilling effect on their First Amendment rights. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, prompting the plaintiffs to appeal to the 7th Circuit.

The appellate court agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that the amendment was both vague and overbroad. The provisions prohibiting “maintaining a physical proximity” and “approaching or confronting” were deemed overly broad and lacking reasonable constraints on law enforcement discretion. These provisions failed to provide clear notice of what conduct was considered criminal, resulting in a chilling effect on constitutionally protected activity. Additionally, the section of the amendment that prohibited photographing or videotaping was found to be clear but overly broad. It encompassed permissible activities, such as recording in public areas, and was deemed to have been enacted with the sole purpose of suppressing critical viewpoints on hunting. The court concluded that the amendment constituted unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit’s ruling on Wisconsin’s “hunter harassment law” marks a significant victory for the First Amendment and freedom of expression. The law, which criminalized interference with hunters, was found to be vague, overly broad, and targeted at suppressing critical viewpoints on hunting. The court’s decision highlights the importance of striking a balance between protecting hunting rights and upholding fundamental constitutional rights. This ruling serves as a reminder that laws must be carefully crafted to avoid infringing upon individuals’ freedom of speech and expression.






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