Pennsylvania General Assembly passes Sunday hunting bill, awaits governor
It has finally happened. After many attempts over 20 years and in various forms, both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that will allow additional Sunday hunting. More specifically, the bill will allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to add one Sunday during firearms deer season, one Sunday during archery deer season and one additional Sunday at the agency’ discretion.
“For most people, it is just a bill, but for me it was three years of hard work,” said Senator Dan Laughlin of Erie, the prime sponsor of the bill. “This will be a life-changing event for some kids.”
Senate Bill 147 was passed in June with a 36-14 vote by the Pennsylvania Senate. It was amended and passed (154-44) by the state House of Representatives on Oct. 30, and then sent back to the Senate. After deliberation, on Nov. 18, the Senate voted (38-11) to concur with the bill as it was amended by the House in October. The bill now awaits Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature.
If approved by the governor, the bill will partially end a 337-year ban on Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania. It is already legal to hunt crows and foxes on some Sundays and coyotes on any Sunday — day or night. I stress “partially,” because the bill only adds three Sundays to the list.
Praise for the bill
The 20 hunting organizations that joined forces under Hunters United for Sunday Hunting consider this a huge victory.
Since more hunters hunt deer than any other species, it is a major step forward for those championing Sunday hunting, because one — and possibly two — of those three days are during rifle deer season.
“SB 147 is a promising first step for the Commonwealth in giving hunters the same rights that people enjoy in 43 other said,” said Bruce Tague, vice president of government affairs for the Sportsmen’s Alliance.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action commented, “Senate Bill 147 seeks to increase Pennsylvania hunters’ ability to enjoy our hunting heritage and will improve hunter recruitment and retention efforts.”
Harold Daub, executive director for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, noted that it was all of these groups working together that made it happen. “There is a lesson here for the conservation community,” Daub said.
More than Sunday hunting
As they say, “the devil is in the details.” The bill is about more than allowing hunting on Sundays. After amendments in the House, mainly as concessions to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the bill specified those three Sundays, rather than allowing hunting on all Sundays. It also increases the fines for trespass while hunting, and allows the Game Commission to ask local police departments for assistance to enforce trespassing laws. Hunters will be required to get written permission from private landowners to hunt on those three Sundays, but only those three Sundays. In addition, the bill allows unarmed (no firearms) persons to enter private property to look for or retrieve a hunting dog without being subject to trespass violations.
SB 147 demands more legislative oversight of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The bill specifically requires the agency to respond “in a timely manner” to any requests for information or documents made by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, and details specific types of documents.
Not everyone is happy
A long-time opponent of Sunday hunting, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, took a neutral stand after the amendments were made to the bill in the House. The Pennsylvania State Grange, Keystone Trails Association and the Sierra Club remain opposed to increased Sunday hunting. For hikers and others who like to enjoy the outdoors during the fall, Sundays were days that they could go outdoors without worrying about interfering with hunters or being concerned for their safety while afield.
I have interviewed many hunters about the Sunday hunting issue during the past five years, and the split among hunters themselves has been almost 50-50. As a hunter, if the weather is miserable on a Saturday in deer season I might now just hunt on the following day. As a hiker, angler and a birder, I have previously selected Sundays as days to visit state forest land and other areas where hunting was allowed the other six days of the week. I can see both sides.
Three additional days of Sunday hunting, particularly for deer, will be a big plus for high school students, college students and those having to work on Saturdays. Will it be a big economic boom? I don’t think so.