Note: This is the fifth in a five-part series discussing tactics that land hunters and anglers in jail.
Light faded as the young hunter, who was new to the East Coast, trudged through fallen leaves toward his truck.
“Odd,” he thought, “not seeing any other people this Sunday.” Yesterday he saw a lot of other hunters wearing blaze orange. That didn’t surprise him; in the George Washington National Forest, about an hour’s drive west of the densely populated nation’s capital.
But the first people he saw Sunday were hunters around a campfire near his truck. One guy asked, “See anything?”
“Nah,” said the hunter. “Nice day, but no deer.”
“You’re lucky the game warden didn’t see you,” the guy said, noticing the hunter’s truck had New Mexico plates. “In the Old Dominion of Virginia, it’s illegal to hunt on Sunday. ”
Although this incident occurred in 1989, Sunday hunting bans continue in a few states, including Pennsylvania. That list, however, shrinks each year with some states altering the bans or chunking them altogether.
Virginia’s General Assembly eased the all-out Sunday ban in 2014, and North Carolina virtually did away with its ban last month.
Not so in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where some very vocal hunters formed a group—Hunters for Sunday Hunting or HUSH—calling for an end to the “blue law.”
“A blue law is a regulation reaching back to colonial days when hunting and other tasks were banned to ensure settlers attended church on Sunday, not the deer woods,” said Justin McShane, an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania allows some varmint hunting on Sunday—fox and coyote—but not the Commonwealth’s ‘big four’—deer, bear, turkey, and elk,” McShane said.
Powerful pro-gun groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) also protest the law. NSSF is part of the Sunday Hunting Coalition—a veritable “who’s who” of top outdoor retail businesses and hunting and conservation groups.
According to an NSSF fact sheet, “Today, regardless of whether one believes it should be the government’s role to encourage church attendance, it is interesting to note that states that allow Sunday hunting actually have the highest rates of church attendance in the country.”
In recent years, NSSF said Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania could create 8,193 new jobs and pump $764 million into the state’s economy, according to that 2015 report.
Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, gripes about the ban, too. Last year, when he was deputy executive director, Burhans called blue laws “antiquated.”
Testifying before a legislative committee, he said, “To date, all but two blue laws in Pennsylvania have been repealed: the complete ability to hunt on Sundays and the option to purchase a vehicle.”
So who’s against Sunday hunting in the Keystone State? Let’s start with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
According to its website, “The current restrictions on Sunday hunting provide safety and security to farm families and friends who are journeying around the farm to enjoy the woods and landscape on that day.
“Legislation to remove or significantly reduce these restrictions would place farm families and other landowners at far greater safety risk and would discourage them from participating in activities that enhance their personal well-being.”
Burhans said “other recreational user groups” like “hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, among others” also point to safety.
“But,” he added, “these groups recreate 365 days per year, including Saturdays and Sundays during hunting seasons,” and “it is important to note (that) hunting is an inherently safe sport.”
“In fact,” Burhans said, “over the past decade, hunting related shooting incidents have decreased by half. In 2015, the total number of hunting related shooting incidents was 23. Out of nearly 935,000 hunters, 23 incidents represent less than one one-thousandth of one percent.”
“Some members of the General Assembly regularly sponsor legislation to end the ban, but they haven’t achieved much traction yet,” McShane said. House Bill 71 is that chamber’s latest attempt.
“While there are some very vocal hunters and supporters against the ban, it seems that a majority of the people in those communities are OK with the status quo,” he said. “Until that changes, the anti-ban folks are left with watching football on Sundays.
“And those caught ignoring the ban face a summary offense of the fifth degree, not less than $75 but no more than $200.”
McShane also suggested signing up for a U.S. Law Shield membership with the Hunter Shield add-on. “It’s a combo that can protect you while hunting and at home,” McShane said. “Plus you get some sound legal education to help you remain a law-abiding gun owner and sportsman.”
— Bill Miller, Contributor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog