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Posted on Sun, Sep. 12, 2004

Afield | The Great Sunday Hunting Debate rages on in Pennsylvania

By Mark Nale

For the CDT

With the exception of foxes, coyotes and crows, hunting on Sundays has been banned in Pennsylvania since 1873. New legislation, House Bill 2779, introduced by Rep. Ed Staback (D-Lackawanna/Wayne) could change all that.

Although controversial, Sunday hunting in one form or another has been discussed for the past five years. A bill allowing deer hunting during the two Sundays in the normal Nov.-Dec. two-week season was introduced in 1999 and another more specific bill (HB 1205) was introduced in April of 2003.

The 2003 bill would have permitted Sunday hunting for deer only in the special regulation areas near Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and waterfowl hunting statewide. Rep. Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny), who introduced HB 1205, said, "It's time the legislature addresses the obscure blue law prohibiting Sunday hunting and recognizes our Commonwealth's need to compete with surrounding states."

Neither the 1999 nor 2003 bills ever left the House Game and Fisheries Committee.

Staback's HB 2779 approaches the matter by removing all Sunday hunting provisions from the state law and allowing the Pennsylvania Game Commission to decide when and where Sunday hunting would be permitted.

PGC president Russ Schleiden of Centre Hall agrees with Staback.

"We always welcome the opportunity for the board of commissioners to make the decisions that affect hunters," Schleiden said. "Staback's legislation would do that. We have a good system that involves public comment and I feel confident that we can reach the correct decisions."

Thirty-five states allow full Sunday hunting and in many states it has never been any other way. Several of our neighboring states allow Sunday hunting, including New York and Ohio, but the decision to permit it usually causes controversy. Delaware and New Jersey continue to prohibit Sunday hunting.

In 2002, the Maryland legislature passed a law allowing Sunday hunting, but it was vetoed by their previous governor. A similar law was passed in 2003 and signed into law that April by their current governor. Maryland hunters can now pursue their sport in some areas with written permission from the landowners and then only on certain Sundays.

West Virginia legalized Sunday hunting in 2001, but since that time, county-specific public referendums have reversed the law in the vast majority of their counties.

Should we be able to hunt on Sundays? Will we expand Sunday hunting in the Keystone State?

These are questions that our state legislature has avoided dealing with in the past -- and for good reason. It is easy to surmise that our elected officials will practice avoidance again this year. This new bill, however, doesn't create Sunday hunting; it removes the prohibitions, and that in itself could just be a way of passing the buck to the PGC.

"In fact, our Board of Commissioners is split -- some support, others oppose and some haven't made up their minds -- on the issue, which reflects the current difference of opinion held by many in the General Assembly and the public at large," Feaser said.

It would be easy to argue that we should be able to hunt on Sundays; after all, you can go to a movie, fish, gamble, buy liquor and shop -- why not be able to hunt?

Since most, but not all, workers have weekends off, proponents of Sunday hunting claim that it would give the average hunter more days to hunt. They also claim that additional hunting days, when youngsters are off school, would give hunting parents more opportunity to introduce their teens to hunting.

Another benefit might be increased tourism dollars spent by hunters in the "big woods" northern counties. Then there is added convenience for hunters who travel to camp for the weekend -- two days to hunt instead of one.

While some push ahead for Sunday hunting, it is clear that non-hunting users of our forests would prefer if things were kept exactly the way they are. Most hikers, mountain bikers, bird watchers and others feel that from October through January they only have one safe day per week to use state forests and some state park lands -- Sundays. There are many more non-hunters than there are hunters and our elected officials have a clear understanding of that reality.

Gilbert, who chairs Farm Bureau's Wildlife Committee, said his members "continue to express strong concern about any proposal to expand the current scope of Sunday hunting."

He continued to outline the reasons for the bureauís opposition, which included safety, religion, disturbance during a day reserved for family activities and others.

Farmers who now allow hunting on their properties could just as easily put up "No Trespassing" signs as post "No Sunday Hunting."

It is also unclear exactly how many hunters actually favor adding an extra day to weekend hunting. In March, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs delegates voted nearly three to one to oppose any increase in Sunday hunting. Those delegates represented approximately 70,000 hunters all across the state and according to the Federation, their main concern is the potential for increased posting of private property.

Implementing Sunday hunting would not necessarily mean adding more days to existing seasons. It might mean shortening seasons and issuing fewer doe tags, for example. If seasons such as those for ruffed grouse or turkey are now at their correct lengths, the commission just couldn't add a number of high-pressure weekend days and expect that it wouldn't affect the resource.

If Sundays are added, "some seasons might have to be shortened," Schleiden said. "We'd just have to sit down with our biologists and look at what is best for each species. State Game Lands rules that now permit certain non-hunting uses on Sundays would also have to be changed and that wouldn't be popular.

"Sunday hunting is coming. It is just a matter of time. I feel confident that when the time comes, we'll be able to sit down with sportsmen's groups, hikers, the Farm Bureau and independent farmers and work this issue out."

One thing for sure -- even if Staback's legislation is passed, we are a long way from across-the-board Sunday hunting. If and when Sunday hunting arrives, the end result could actually be fewer areas to hunt due to posting, fewer hunting opportunities and fewer total days to hunt -- not exactly what the proponents envision.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a biology teacher and member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at

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