Sunday hunting is back in spotlight

By Bob Frye Capital Correspondent

Harrisburg — Jeff Knight grew up hunting in the woods of
Huntingdon County, but you won’t find him there much now.

That’s not just because he now calls Nashville, Tenn., home.

Still an ardent sportsmen, Knight visits other states to hunt,
but Pennsylvania isn’t one of them. It’s not worth making the trip
here if he can’t extend his time in the woods by hunting on
Sundays, he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love Pennsylvania and I loved hunting
there for years, but I always thought a ban on Sunday hunting was
ridiculous,” Knight said. “Hunting, especially with a bow, still
really excites me. I want every day available to me. I want to go
every day I can.

“There shouldn’t be a chain up on the woods saying ‘it’s Sunday,
you can’t hunt.'”

There are some in Pennsylvania who feel the same way, but also
some who don’t. That became obvious at a hearing held by the House
Game and Fisheries Committee June 9 in Harrisburg.

Representatives of various groups were called to testify in
regards to House Bill 904. Sponsored by Lackawanna County Democrat
Ed Staback, the bill would lift the legislative ban on Sunday
hunting and allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to determine
which seasons, if any, should include Sundays.

The Game Commission certainly is willing to be put in charge of
deciding if and when to include Sundays in some seasons, said Vern
Ross, executive director of the commission. Though commissioners
are split on Sunday hunting, the agency’s stance is that it does
not oppose the concept and “would welcome” being given the
authority to decide its fate. That’s partly because many believe
opening Sundays to hunting could increase license sales,
particularly among young hunters, Ross added.

“We feel that with input from our biologists, the public and
thoughtful consideration by our commissioners that we can make all
decisions regarding seasons and bag limits including what species
could possibly be hunted on Sundays and which species may not be
appropriate to hunt on that day,” Ross said.

Sportsmen are not unanimous in their support of Sunday hunting,
but more of those who testified favored it than opposed it.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs opposes blanket
Sunday hunting for all species, said Melody Zullinger, the group’s
executive director.

By comparison, Ed Wentzler, legislative director for the United
Bowhunters of Pennsylvania, said a poll of that group’s members
found 69 percent favor Sunday hunting in some form, for various
reasons. Members believe opening Sundays to hunters could provide
families with more time afield and help hunters to better manage
the deer herd, for instance, he said.

Representatives of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and
Pennsylvania State Fish and Game Protective Association testified
in support of Sunday hunting, too. The National Wild Turkey
Federation and NRA submitted testimony in support of Staback’s bill
as well.

On the opposite side of the issue were groups like the
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania State Grange and Keystone
Trails Association.

The Farm Bureau has not taken a stand on Staback’s bill in
particular. Rather, it opposes any form of Sunday hunting, no
matter who is in charge, said Joel Rotz, the group’s governmental
relations director. If Sunday hunting comes to pass, many farm
bureau members will likely post their land, he said.

“We want to continue to have one day a week during hunting
season when we are able to use our properties without gunfire,
trespassing hunters and other interruptions to our family life,”
added Wilmer Lehman, chairman of the Franklin County Farm Bureau
wildlife damage control committee.

The Keystone Trails Association, a 30,000-member hiking group,
opposes Sunday hunting because hunters already have six days to be
in the woods. It would be “dangerous and unfair to tens of
thousands of people who seek recreation in Penn’s Woods” to give
hunters the seventh day, too, said association President Hugh
Downing.

The committee took no action on Staback’s bill following the
hearing, but the issue of Sunday hunting is not going away. The
Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee was scheduled to
release a report on the potential economic impact of Sunday
hunting. That committee, working with a private consultant,
examined three things:

  • The economic advantages that might be realized by lifting the
    ban on Sunday hunting;
  • The impact of Sunday hunting on the 600 regulated hunting
    grounds across Pennsylvania;
  • The impact of Sunday hunting on private landowners and possible
    remedies for landowners who would like to keep their property
    closed on Sundays.

The idea is to see what, if anything, adding Sunday hunting
would do to the mix in Pennsylvania.

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