Sunday hunting could become legalized in Pennsylvania by the middle of the month, meaning that for at least three Sundays a year, landowners would have to deal with potential hunters on their land.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania State Grange has come out against the bill, citing its failure to address what it sees as the root causes of hunting’s decline in the state. The state Game Commission has pushed for Sunday hunting as a way to promote more opportunities for hunters to go into the woods.
“The larger issue is whether Sunday hunting will reverse the decade-long decline in hunting licenses,” says Vince Phillips, legislative director for the Pennsylvania State Grange. “Proponents could not document that claim back in September at a hearing of the House Game and Fisheries Committee. Rather, they said that opening up Sundays means more time when father and sons can spend quality time in the woods. Although that convenience may work for a few, the fact is that Sunday is already lost for many since dad or mom will have to pull kids out of Sunday organized team activities such as soccer and, realistically, what is the chance of that?
“In addition, the next generation is being familiarized less and less with outdoor recreational hunting, and there may be a cultural bias by many youth against guns in general. The bottom line is that there are causes of the decline that Sunday hunting simply does not address.”
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which has been long opposed to legalizing Sunday hunting, is officially “neutral” on Senate Bill 147.
Mark O’Neill, media and strategic communications coordinator for Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, says the bill could be voted on in the Senate as soon as Nov. 18. If it passes without further amendments, it will likely go to Gov. Tom Wolf to be signed into law.
Under the current bill’s provisions, Sunday hunting will be available on just three Sundays per year: one Sunday during firearms season for deer, one Sunday during archery season for deer and a third Sunday to be set by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
It will go into effect 90 days after being signed into law, meaning that Sunday hunting will not be available in time for this year’s official start to the rifle hunting season on Nov. 30.
Other provisions include:
Written permission. Hunters must get written permission from landowners prior to hunting on their land on Sunday.
Trespassing enforcement. Trespassing will be a primary offense enforceable by the Game Commission. If a hunter trespasses more than one time in seven years, their hunting license will be suspended for a year.
Dog retrieval. Unarmed individuals will be allowed to enter properties for the sole purpose of retrieving their hunting dogs.
Farm Bureau has noted that the move to allow Sunday hunting in other states has failed to increase hunter numbers: New York has seen a decline of 115,000 hunters since 2001, Ohio has lost nearly 37,000 hunters since 2002 and Virginia has seen license sales drop by 42,000 since 2009.
Only three states currently ban Sunday hunting: Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Maryland allows Sunday hunting but limits it to certain counties and on certain dates.
William Troxell, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association, says previous surveys of the association’s members showed widespread opposition to Sunday hunting, some due to religious objections and others due to wanting a “day off” from letting hunters onto the land.
The association’s current position, he says, mirrors that of Farm Bureau: If it’s going to happen, it should be with restrictions.
But some of the association’s members, he says, welcome Sunday hunting as it could provide better control of deer.
“There is costly damage of vegetables from deer,” he says. “For food safety, just the presence of deer in the field can be cause for not harvesting at all.”