Friday, September 9, 2011

What is the Sunday Hunting Ban Really About?.. Part I

Kirk Mantay is a wetland ecologist who spends his free time  hunting and fishing in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.  Since 2007, he has run River Mud, a blog focusing on Chesapeake Bay outdoor sports and conservation. I would like to publicly thank him for his great advice, support, and this blog post.

Most of us would laugh at a Sunday ban on fishing. 
So why do nearly a dozen states, primarily in the Northeast, ban Sunday hunting?

What is the Sunday Hunting Ban Really About?..
 Part I

Sunday hunting.  To some, it conjures up memories of days afield with kids who have a once-a-week reprieve from school and sports.  To others, it is yet another signal that America is moving away from “blue laws” that encourage us to spend time at church and at home on Sunday.  Funny thing is, there’s no geographical relationship between Sunday hunting and church involvement, as some of the most spiritually conservative states (Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi) allow Sunday hunting, and some of the states least dominated by churchgoers, like New Jersey and Maine, still have Sunday hunting bans in place.  Personally, I believe that God is a little more put off by human activities like genocide, murder, pedophilia (especially when protected by churches), and global drug and arms trafficking, than he is by a parent taking their child out in the woods on Sunday to stalk a rabbit.    So now you know where I stand.

From a logical standpoint, the Sunday hunting ban no longer holds much merit because other activities involving willful animal harvest – including commercial and recreational fishing, crabbing, lobstering, clamming, and shrimping…to say nothing of commercial slaughtering ….are permitted on Sunday in every state, and indeed, opponents of Sunday hunting participate in these activities.  To say that hunting is different simply because it involves a lead bullet instead of a steel bolt (cattle and hogs), steel hook (fishing), or neckbreaking (chickens) is pretty silly.  But we’re talking people, not logic, so let’s move on.

History of the Sunday hunting ban
The Sunday hunting ban is literally older than this country.  Massachussetts led the way in 1635.   Granted, in that era, they also “led the way” in the then-unpopular field of witch killing, so I don’t know how much we can speak to the wisdom of other regulations passed at that time!  No new Sunday hunting ban has been passed since 1909 (Oklahoma, repealed in 1989).  In fact, as of 2011, only 11 states have any substantial restriction on Sunday hunting at all.

“Away, Witch! I heareth that thou hast shot a squirrel on Sunday!
For which ye shall perish by fire, post haste!”

Why does it matter?
Honestly, in the 31 states that have no Sunday hunting ban, and the additional 12 that have some sort of Sunday hunting provisions in at least some part of the state, it hasn’t mattered.  Game populations have not collapsed. Churches have not gone unattended, or been forced into foreclosure.  Conflicts with non-hunters have not escalated in any way. 

Those agencies, groups, and hunters most in favor of Sunday hunting point to endless, exhaustive studies that show the potential for increased out-of-state license and stamp sales, travel bookings, and increased hunter recruitment.  They are nervous about the aging of “the average hunter,” and unlike most of the public, they know that hunters and anglers pay for conservation, both through licenses and taxes, and through memberships and donations to conservation organizations.  Poor hunter recruitment is bad news, and these folks want to pull out all the stops – one of which may be Sunday hunting.  But the studies of existing Sunday hunting programs don’t show a remarkable increase in recruitment or revenue as a direct, simple result of Sunday hunting.  Again – we’re talking people, not logic.

The folks most opposed to Sunday hunting choose to focus on the potential negatives.  For animal rights activists, any expansion in hunting rights is a defeat. For those who hunt deer with dogs, Sunday is a day that other hunters could be chasing deer without dogs – a disadvantage to their own hunting, specifically.  Some professional hunting guides oppose Sunday hunting because it could lead to a reduction in the total length of the hunting season (number of hunting days), which is bad business.   For the public, 90% of whom do not hunt, it’s a confusing issue that might conjure up more fear of firearms injuries……if the general public spent much time outdoors at all.   Truly a sad state of affairs.

I know the proponents of expanded Sunday hunting love to talk about all the great things that “could” happen, but the realistic bottom line is that none of the negative impacts and few of the positive impacts have been realized.  In the next two posts on this topic, we’ll discuss how the pro and anti-Sunday groups figure into the debate, and where it’s likely to lead in states like Pennsylvania and Virginia – both of whose state wildlife agencies endorsed Sunday hunting for the first time in 2011, but where the Sunday hunting ban still stands anyway.  

In the process, I will probably piss everyone off, but hopefully will leave you with some thoughts about the real reasons behind the Sunday hunting debate, and where it’s likely to head in the next several years.

Taking turkeys to the slaughterhouse on Sunday = just fine.
Hunting turkeys on Sunday = $350 fine

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