Monday, December 12, 2011

Guest Post - What is the Sunday Hunting Ban Really About?.. Part II

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

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 being a society that encourages us to spend time at church and at home on Sunday. 

From a purely 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 any different is simply juvenile.  So let's move on.

In Part I of this series, we took a basic look at the historical (and hysterical) premise of the Sunday hunting ban, as well as a basic look at the groups of people most aligned with continuing this ban in the 11 states where it exists, and the types of groups most actively trying to have the ban repealed, thus, allowing Sunday hunting where it is currently not allowed.  In this post, we'll take a very detailed look at the groups most prominently opposed to Sunday hunting.  Buckle your seatbelts. 

1.  Group: Animal Rights Activists and Anti-Hunters

Organizations: HSUS, other local groups

Why they oppose Sunday hunting:  Any increase in hunting opportunities is a setback for the cause of anti-hunters and animal rights activists, because the potential for animals to be killed is inherently increased.  The long-term goal of most of these organizations is to abolish all animal hunting, all fishing, and all slaughtering of livestock.   Their publicly stated reasoning is composed of two main topics: 1) Hunting is on the decline, while wildlife watching is increasing in popularity; and 2) Sunday hunting means that non-hunters will get killed while walking their dog. 

What merit does that reasoning have? I have to say that out of all of these groups, this is one that is based on a genuine ideology.   While I totally disagree with it, I'm compelled to respect it.  They hate hunting.  Repealing the Sunday hunting ban would increase hunting, at least slightly.   Unfortunately, the honesty ends there.   These organizations routinely make claims like "36% of Americans participate in wildlife viewing but only 10% are hunters," so therefore hunting on Sundays should never occur.

 First of all, I'd guarantee that the 36% of wildlife viewers includes the 10% of hunters.  Even if we ignore that, the assumption that 100 million Americans are actively, truly engaged in watching wildlife other than from their porch or kitchen window is sadly.......just laughable.  In fact, extensive USFWS data indicates that 2/3 of Americans identifying themselves as "wildlife watchers" do not ever leave their house to watch wildlife.   So the number is really: "wildlife watchers away from home, including hunters: 12%; hunters: 10%."   Wow, that's not nearly as compelling as that 36% vs. 10% figure.  But it's true.

The USFWS data also indicates another critical trend that the anti-hunters don't want you to know about - while everyone knows that participation in hunting is on the decline, USFWS data also shows a parallel 20-year decline in Americans' participation in wildlife watching away from home, aka "non-consumptive wildlife tourism."   So that group of wildlife watchers that anti-hunters are soooo worried about?  They are disappearing as fast as hunters.  Their numbers are, in fact, NOT increasing. Or even staying stable. 

On the second topic (safety), I actually crunched the numbers on how Sunday hunting might impact hunting accident statistics.   The answer: None or not much.   It's safe to go outside during hunting season! Bottom line.  And with most states having 6 or 7 days of hunting all season long, with millions of non-hunters afield all season long, it's unusual for a state to report more than 1 non-hunter fatality.  Of course, the anti-hunters like to bring up bizarre "what-if's" like, "What if I get lost in the forest, and I'm wearing all brown fur clothes, and there's a poacher in a tree, and he's drunk and doesn't have his bifocals on, and actually I'm trespassing on someone else's property........"  Come on now.  My last post on this topic at the Unlucky Hunter was met with a similar response, "Well, sometimes my dogs trespass on other peoples' farms as a matter of habit.  I'll worry about them getting shot if the areas where they are trespassing are being hunted on Sundays!" and "dogs don't pay attention to property lines!"  Okay, how about you keep an eye on your dogs?  Then they will be safe. 

As always, the anti-hunters and animal rights activists have compelling emotion and compassion on their side.  But as usual, they are more than willing to misrepresent facts or boldly lie just to convince people to support them.  That's a shame, because it prevents us all from having any type of adult conversation about conservation topics that really matter. 

2.  Group: Religious conservatives

Organizations:  Mostly just "concerned individuals"

Why they oppose Sunday hunting:  Since about the 1880s, Sunday has been observed as a day of rest and/or worship in popular American culture.    These individuals are concerned that the advent of Sunday hunting would impact our nation's spirituality as a whole, and is symbolic of our culture's downward spiral away from traditional Christian values. 

What merit does that reasoning have? Well, basically, none whatsoever.  According to a long list of studies including one by Gallupall have some form of Sunday hunting.  Meanwhile, five of the six  states reporting the lowest church attendance all have a total Sunday hunting ban in place.   If I were a reporter on Fox News or MSNBC, I'd be compelled to report to you that "Gallup Poll shows that Sunday hunting is Good for Church Attendance," but of course, it's not that simple.  Suffice to say that there is absolutely no statistical relationship between Sunday hunting and church attendance.

Now let's step away from "church" and talk "spirituality," since we can all likely agree that the two are not the same.   These same Christians believe that it is just distasteful or disrespectful to God to be out in the woods, looking to kill a deer or a duck on a Sunday evening.  That's their belief and I respect it.  However, how many of these ideologues take their kids or grandkids fishing on Sunday afternoon, after church?  Answer: a whole lot of them.  Spiritually and logically, this just doesn't line up, unless you have some kind of crazy spirituality that stipulates that killing a duck at 4:45pm on Sunday is not the moral equivalent of killing a catfish or trout at 5pm on Sunday.   I have yet to find a religion stipulating such values, so I feel comfortable in dismissing the spiritual argument.  Killing animals is killing animals.  Whether by hook or by bullet.   

And one critical thought - why is Sunday fishing so important to these conservative families (and my family as well)? Because it's hard to get the kids out on the water any other day of the week........oh wait - this happens to be one of the strongest arguments for lifting the Sunday hunting ban. 

3. Group: The Farm Bureau

Organizations:  Virginia Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, others

Why they oppose Sunday hunting:  Not at all clear, but the bottom line is that the individual county farm bureaus within individual state farm bureaus continue to vote to continue to support the Sunday hunting ban - meaning that at least a significant group of  farm bureau members (ostensibly, farmers or farm owners) continue to oppose Sunday hunting.  

What merit does that reasoning have?  It's hard to tell, without knowing what Farm Bureau reps are telling their member farmers about Sunday hunting and its possible risks and benefits.   While claims have been made that the Bureau has provided misleading information about Sunday hunting issues, I certainly can't verify those reports first-hand, so I won't even link to them.  

Nonetheless, the bottom line of "we listen to our members" remains pretty damn valid......or rather it did, until  the Virginia Farm Bureau recently released this bizarre and quite ill-advised policy statement that gives some amazing insight about how they frame their discussion on Sunday hunting.  It's a piece of work, if you enjoy watching trainwreck style debating.

The policy statement includes claims that Sunday hunting is really a waste of time because most hunters, "have the means to take time off of work."   Wow!  I do?! Another statement goes down the rabbithole by stating that Sunday hunting would be fruitless for hunters anyway,  because "wildlife learn habits of hunters and avoid them."     While that statement has some element of truth to it, the millions of animals harvested on Sundays during last year's hunting season would disagree (if they could be asked)  that they had the proper ability to "avoid hunters."  In fact, nearly EVERY animal harvested by humans over the last 12,000 years would argue that human hunting and fishing pressure across the globe did not, in fact,  adequately educate them about humans, and thus save them from human harvest.  

If I had to bet, I'd wager that the Farm Bureau state offices in the 39 states with Sunday hunting would argue that they support Sunday hunting in their own state, if only because they support landowner rights.  How the VAFB and PAFB don't back that philosophy, I don't know, but their members continue to oppose Sunday hunting in democratic and at least semi-public votes.  So there you have it.  It may or may not be philosophically honest, but it's been repeatedly put to an honest vote by groups of honest men and women.   

Still, there's hope for change on this front.  The Ohio Farm Bureau recently (2002) voted to endorse Sunday hunting after the state promised to strengthen poaching and trespassing laws.  This will be an important model for Pennsylvania to look at, as many landowners and farmers are highly concerned about any impact that Sunday hunting may have on the already ridiculous problem of private land poaching by trespassers.  As the former vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau said, "I believe farmers feared change more than the issue itself."  

4. Group: Deer-Dog hunters

Organizations:  Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, among others.

Why they oppose Sunday hunting?  VHDA's position paper on the topic says that the first and foremost reason is that God wants us to keep Sunday holy.  Second, these groups have lately been admitting more openly that hunting - especially hunting with dogs (I've only heard one representative of one group publicly state that part) - may be more likely to come under scrutiny from anti-hunters if Sunday hunting is allowed.   They theorize that hunting, especially with dogs, could be severely curtailed or banned as a result. 

What merit does that reasoning have?

Okay.  On the first reason - that God wants us to keep Sunday holy.  Let's be serious.  Am I supposed to think that a majority of these deer-dog guys do NOT  go fishing or spend all day Sunday drinking and watching football or NASCAR.   Holy activities, all of them.   Even if they go to church and then go fishing or drinking or watching football, which I'd virtually guarantee that a majority of their members do, then it's a flagrant violation of this reasoning.  If Sunday's holy, it's holy, right?  It's not only holy for deer.  It's not only holy for Sunday morning until you get out of church.  If the sabbath is holy, it's holy.  No loopholes.   I think we can easily discard this argument, because it openly mocks Christian faith, while hiding behind it.  

On the second reason - not fueling the anti-hunting fire (towards hunting in general) -  I won't say they have a point, but I understand what they fear.  But like the anti-hunters and Farm Bureau supporters, I believe that their fear is not based in fact.   Many "Yankee" states have Sunday hunting.  And those states have not moved to ban any stretch of the imagination.   As I've documented above, non-hunters have not been pushed out of public properties, hunting accidents have not increased, I mean, it certainly seems like nothing changes when Sunday hunting is approved, except perhaps the length of the hunting season. 

There's another part of this, though - and that's the "hunting with dogs" part.   These guys are more openly admitting that they fear the loss of their own quality hunting, and possibly their heritage, if Sunday hunting becomes legal.  First, deer hounds are typically run on Saturdays, and rested on Sundays.  This means that even if Sunday hunting were legal, most quality hounds would be taking a day off.  Let me rephrase that.  It means that other people would be hunting deer on days that they are not hunting deer.  The thought of still hunters pushing around deer on big farms or forests is absolutely not palatable to these folks.  It's just not - they strongly think of the resource as "their deer."  And nobody's gonna go out there on Sundays and kill their deer. 

Finally, the heritage of deer hounds.   Having grown up in Tidewater, Virginia, and having had "enough" hunts ruined by packs of dogs running miles ahead of their owners (and across dozens of property lines), I think I can speak on this topic.  The deer hound culture, in 2011, strongly looks like this:

Amazingly, these guys are finally realizing that "maybe" this presents an image problem, in a world full of the internet, animal rights freaks, and a general public that is occasionally scared of hunters of any kind.  As a result, they are becoming highly sensitive to public opposition to deer hound antics and I believe are starting to do a slightly better job of policing their own culture.   For instance, here's the picture featured on their main web page:

I commend them for their marketing effort - sincerely.  While it's true that fox chasing is LEGAL on Sundays (ironic!), that clean, regal imagery certainly appeals to the general public more than this more typical imagery of chase dog ownership:


Ultimately, the deer hound folks are going to have to fully realize that the future of their hunting tradition will not swing on the approval of Sunday hunting, but the general public's negative perception of guys who sit on the tailgate of a pickup truck waiting for the dogs to chase a deer out of the woods so they can shoot it (yes, I've seen it).

Overall, Sunday hunting doesn't really appear to be the menace that any of these groups fear that it might be.  Sunday hunting means a shorter hunting season.  And that the spiritually inclined will still go to church and get to choose whether he or she hunts on Sunday evening.  And that landowners will still have the same protections - and problems - that they already do regarding public access, trespassing, and poaching. And that the general public is still safe in the woods, even during hunting season.  And that anti-hunters are no closer to, but perhaps no further from their goal of stopping recreational hunting in the United States.

But if everything stays the same, what does that mean for the proponents of Sunday hunting, who predict increases in license sales, a boom in the number of new and youth hunters, and a huge economic swing in tourism income for states like Virginia and Pennsylvania?  Well, the folks who loved this write-up and going to hate that one......and it's coming next.

DreamHost Promotional Code