Sportsmen’s Heritage Act fails in the U.S. Senate (Updated)

Conservatives kill controversial bill-

The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act passed the House last April, and the Senate version sponsored by Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana seemed poised to win Senate approval after beating back a number of filibuster attempts, a success that has become increasingly rare.

Nevertheless, the bill would have still had to survive a House/Senate conference committee at this late date in the lame duck session of this Congress. It didn’t even get that far. The bill was done in by yet another filibuster late on Nov. 26, 2012.

The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act began in the House, and while it was billed as a sportsmen’s bill, the House verison was primarily an attempt to attack Wilderness protection and public land in general in the name of hunting and fishing.  Conservation groups frantically opposed the bill, but it passed the House 276 to 146 in April with a number of Democrats defecting to the GOP side.  Almost every Republican voted for it.

The outlook for the conservation side improved greatly when Senator Tester introduced in the Senate a much more friendly version to conservationists and to Democrats. Before the 2012 election, where Tester faced a tough challenge from Montana’s lone U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg, he attached the Sportsmen’s bill  to the Farm Bill, a very important piece of legislation that the Sportsmen’s bill was expected to ride into law.  Surprisingly the Farm Bill itself did not clear Congress mostly because of a partisan dispute over food stamps, which Republicans wanted to cut.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Senate easily beat back several Republican filibusters of the Tester bill with large supermajorities. Prospects for passage looked good.  However, a budgetary procedural amendment hurdle appeared. It was led by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who didn’t like the tax revenues the bill would generate to buy conservation lands.

In the meantime, there was renewed opposition from conservationists because the bill contained a provision that prevented the EPA from regulating, or even studying lead in ammunition. A fight also broke out between the NRA and the Gun Owners of America. GOA thought the bill could result in the seizure of private lands.  The NRA was very interested in making sure that lead was not regulated by the EPA.

At the end, Republicans rallied once again to their  pledge to Grover Norquist to oppose any and all tax increases for any purpose.  So the budget act procedural hurdle killed the bill with still another filibuster.  Majority Leader Harry Reid needed 60 votes to beat the Republican filibuster on the budgetary point of order. In the end Majority Leader got a bare majority — 50 votes — ten short. Only one Republican Senator voted for the bill, retiring Maine Republican Olympia Snow.

With difficulty the bill might yet be revived. Some supporters are saying they will now try to move already passed anti-conservation House version onto some other piece of legislation that has to go before the Senate.

If the bill dies and interest remains in the next Congress — the 113th Congress — the bill will have to begin from scratch in the new Congress that meets in January. A Congress lasts for two years.

Filibusters in general will be a hot topic as the new Congress adopts its standing rules.  In the U.S. Senate the filibuster has become so common that every major and many minor bills are subjected to it.  It takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster. This is called invoking “cloture.” Bills can be subjected to more than one filibuster, however, as was the Sportsmen’s Act. As a result the 60 vote (60%) supermajority often has to be obtained repeatedly for a bill to pass.

In this Congress (the 112th) there have been almost 400 filibusters in the Senate, and Majority Leader Harry Reid appears determined to change the rules to limit them.  The current Congress has passed fewer bills than any Congress in the last hundred or more years. It also has the lowest congressional favorability rating in the history of public opinion polls.

Tester’s bill got a story today from the Associated Press.

Late today, there was a story in Politco. 


  1. JB Avatar

    It’s too bad that the majority party now gives up on legislation with merely the threat of a filibuster. I say make the minority (now the Republican party) stand up and actually WORK if they want to filibuster a bill. Letting them filibuster by threat means they don’t have to do anything but bitch to effectively kill legislation that doesn’t originate with their party. That arrangement ain’t working.

  2. WM Avatar

    Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Barbar Boxer (D-CA), polarizing poster children for their respective parties, illustrating why Congress can’t solve problems.

  3. Jon Way Avatar

    I for one am glad it didn’t pass. This says everything: “The NRA was very interested in making sure that lead was not regulated by the EPA.”

    1. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
      Rita K. Sharpe

      I do not think it is over yet.It all remains to be seen.The government is not the one I used to know It seems if something absolutely needs to get done,it gets sided tracked and ,if it does get done,what was the cost/price in order to obtain it?

      1. Savebears Avatar

        There is going to be some serious negotiations going on, I don’t expect this to go away anytime soon.

    2. jon Avatar

      Lead has been proven to be deadly to wildlife. Why are these people trying to make sure lead is not regulated by the epa? Is this a they are trying to take your hunting away conspiracy? Lead is harmful to wildlife. Why are these people ignoring it? because they don’t want to pay extra for copper bullets?

  4. Bob Ferris Avatar

    This bill was a mixed bag but the lead exemption was a deal breaker for many. That was the NRA channeling the arms industry that does not want this change–hunters and anglers who also subscribe to a conservation ethic could not support this exemption.

    Bob Ferris
    Cascadia Wildlands

  5. Gary S Avatar
    Gary S

    The filibuster, like any broadly abused procedure, needs to be fixed. That said, I’m glad this bill failed.

  6. Mike Avatar

    Great news. The lead exemption was one of the most barbaric propositions recently introduced in congress.

    Time to BAN all use of lead bullets.

    1. Craig Avatar

      I shoot all Steel shot for upland and Waterfowl because it’s a pain carrying both. All my Rifle Bullets are solid copper Barnes no lead. I don’t see why it’s so hard to get away from lead, i’ve been doing it for years.

      1. Mike Avatar

        Thanks for doing that, Craig.

        1. Craig Avatar

          The performance of the non lead bullets and shot are better than lead! They do cost more, but I’d rather spend more money and not be eating lead and putting it into the environment. I also fly fish so no lead there either. It’s not hard to get away from lead.

      2. josh Avatar

        Wait till the Barnes fail on ya! My friend shot a bull 4 times and not one bullet expanded….

        1. Craig Avatar

          I’ve shot 5 Bulls and 8 Bucks over the last 12 years and never had a problem! I reload my own and have my loads down to a science for both my 30.06 and .338. I don’t like factory ammo and my guns are both custom built.

          1. elk275 Avatar


            Barnes bullets have been known to pencil through an animal. If the point is slightly damaged the bullet sometimes not open up.

            I do have knowledge of internal, external and terminal ballistics and understand small arms.

            1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
              SEAK Mossback

              I have seen two Barnes tripleshock Bullets pencil through the same Sitka Blacktail (that fortunately expired quickly anyway), a few years ago. The problem was 2-fold — not enough velocity (I was using 30-06 reduced loads I loaded for my young son to shoot, using pistol powder — making it equivalent to a long range shot) and the particular bullet design issue Elk describes with the tripleshock at lower velocity. I solved the problem by switching to the Barnes version with a carbonate tip that reliably starts expansion even at lower velocity. I also upped the charge a bit (which required switching to a bit slower burning powder). They have worked quite reliably since.

            2. Craig Avatar

              Well I prefere to Stalk and hunt and the longest shot of those animals was maybe 80 yards.
              All lung or heart shots and I did not have a single animal go further than 20 yards after shot and the longest at maybe 50.
              Check yor bullets and aim well is all I can say. .06 and .338 aren’t small arms.I developed my loads over a 6 month test, every gun differs.
              Everyone one I shot, the Barnes pedaled and did it’s job with 98% bullet retention.
              I have all of them recovered from the animals I killed.
              I shot Winchester Fail Safe before that and they also did a great job but have lead. So that’s why I switched.
              But the Barnes I shoot have a 2950 Velocity with a 3800FPE.
              If I shot you at 80yrd with 3800 fpe and the bullet didn’t expand I think you would still die! The shock,trauma,and hole through your heart would kill you, as it did the Elk I killed.
              Longer range shots and bullet expansion mean more, less energy, less velocity. Like I said, I hunt timber close range.

              1. josh Avatar

                We were 270 yards away with a .270 WSM. We killed him, but it was touch and go.

      3. elk275 Avatar

        Craig and Mike

        I only shoot vintage sides by sides and they are not able to shoot steel period, that is the reason I quite hunting waterfowl. Non-steel alternatives are between $2.50 and $3.00 a shell. That hurts! Steel shot can not be reloaded according to the Federal Ammunition company due to the ease creating excessive pressures.

        Barnes TTSX are excellent bullets but the specific gravity of copper is less than lead causing the mass of the projectile to be larger. The longer the bullet the deeper it has to be seated which causes decreased case capacity. Deceased case capacity means less gun power resulting in less velocity. The less velocity the less foot pounds of energy and decreased trajectory. Secondly, each rifle and barrel have bullets that shoot more accurate that another bullet. So what if that rifle shoots cooper bullet 3 minutes of an angle where as the same rifle will shoot cooper jacketed bullets under a minute of an angle. Today most premium bonded bullets retain 80% to 90% of there weight and the amount of bullet that is shed is 50% copper and 50% lead.

        How would they ever enforce a lead bullet with a copper jacket ban. The bullet would have to be removed from the case and cut in half. A box of rifle bullets cost between $30 and $50 who is going to pay for the bullet if it is a non leaded bullet.

        This season I hunted with my Kimber 84 Montana 308 using Barnes bullets. The rifle shoot about 1 1/2 MOA which I have not been able to correct. I prefer less than a MOA at 100 yards, I can shoot that well but the rifle is not shooting under a MOA. I have other rifles that shoot that well but they have not been shot with copper due to the expense, the bullet is 80 cents.

        Off to see Lincoln. .

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Continuous Shutter
          The main challenge of wildlife photography – whether it’s of birds, animals or anything else in nature – is that your subject is constantly moving. A fraction of a second can make the difference between the perfect shot of the animal looking directly into the camera, or it dashing away into the undergrowth.

          Setting your camera to continuous (or “al servo”) mode lets you capture a rapid series of images, and maximises the chance of getting the perfect shot

          This season – I hunted with my camera 🙂

          1. Craig Avatar

            You are so right Nancy, One blink of a eye can turn a good shot into a gut shot. Wish more hunters realized that!

        2. Craig Avatar

          Elk I understand what you are saying! My father in law made both my guns outta mouser 98 actions, custom barrels, stocks, glass embedding, and every detail was machined to make them shoot the way they do. Also George Hoenig who made and does work for Purdy Bros worked on these.
          Each gun took over a year to build and test with these rounds.
          So yes it varies a lot but I know what my guns and ammo do.
          A store bought Winchester,Ruger ect will vary greatly in bullet performance ect. But when built right and lots of money it makes a difference. These are 5 figure custom built guns.

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Support for the act is not universal from hunters and anglers, however. “As a big game hunter and former Air Force officer who cares deeply about our country and its wild public lands heritage, I’m constantly amazed by the apparent naivety of some who espouse anti-wilderness rhetoric, “ writes David A Lien, co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, in an article on the AmmoLand website. “Even though hunting, angling, and wildlife watching are enjoyed by some 87.5 million Americans, sometimes we forget that not everyone realizes the importance of our protected public lands….

    Section 104(e) (1) in H.R. 4089 would open Wilderness Areas to motorized vehicles, helicopters, road building and any other imaginable tool that is used for hunting or fishing, but is not allowed in Wilderness. This would undermine world class hunting destinations such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho, and the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado.”

    There’s a lot about this bill that is very vague.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      If one must hunt, this is my idea of who hunters are and how to hunt:

      I also don’t like attacking the EPA in a roundabout way to try prevent them from doing their job – what’s more important, clean water and public health, and healthy wildlife, or the right to use lead?

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Ida Lupine,

      It is important to add the note that these comments refer to the House version H.R. 4089.

      These provisions, and many similar ones, were all ignored by Senator Tester writing his Senate bill.

      If somehow the Senate bill still passed, however, it would have to deal with the House bill’s provisions unless there was some procedure successfully taken to substitute the entire Senate bill for the House bill and get both bodies to agree that way.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Thanks! 🙂

  8. jon Avatar

    But the gun rights organization Gun Owners of America (GOA), which touts itself as “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington,” is vociferously opposing the bill, saying it expands the federal government’s “eminent domain” authority to confiscate private property without the consent of rightful landowners. GOA is urging gun owners to oppose the S 3525, which it has nicknamed the “Federal Land Seizure Act.”

    Interesting to say the least. Any thoughts about this anyone?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Yes. Gun Owners of America have as at least part of their agenda matters other than guns, such as traditional right wing opposition to the acquisition of public land.