Sunday hunting looks like it’s coming, like it or not — the likes leading the like-nots by about a 3-to-1 margin in Richmond, if not in Rappahannock County.
Two bills seeking to allow Sunday hunting of deer and wild animals on private Virginia property and state waters have made it through the General Assembly. The House passed HB 1237 on Jan. 28 by a 71-27 vote (among the yeas was Rappahannock’s Del. Michael Webert, R-18th), and sent the legislation to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. Its Senate counterpart, SB 154, passed by a vote of 29-10 on Feb. 10. (Among the nays: Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain of the 26th District, which includes Rappahannock.)
Pending the outcome of the Senate committee’s meeting last night (Feb. 19) and the signature of Gov. Terry McAuliffe — who has said he supports Sunday limited hunting — the 2015 hunting seasons would extend to all seven days of the week.
HB 1237, sponsored by Del. Todd Gilbert (R-15th) and 39 colleagues, repeals the ban on Sunday hunting on private lands with written permission from the owner — while still prohibiting hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship, the hunting of deer with dogs and the hunting of bear.
And just like in Big Washington, opinions in Rappahannock seem to be divided. “I’m in favor of it because it’s fair,” said Clark Hollow resident (and Rappahannock News columnist) Richard Brady. “It’s removed all of people’s objections . . . [and is now] a property rights’ issue. It only applies to private land and owners who have given their consent to a specific person.”
“Virginia has lots of old, old laws on the books,” Brady added, “that date back to the ‘blue laws,’ and which most other states have done away with . . . Those people who say it’s going to disrupt a day a day of worship — that’s just baloney, throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks because they don’t want anything to change.”
Del. Tommy Wright, R-Victoria, one of the House members who opposed the bill, said the majority of people supporting HB 1237 are not the ones most affected by the legislation.
“The people that are affected the most don’t have the majority of the votes,” Wright said. “You’re not going to have much hunting going on in Fairfax, Va. You may have people coming from Fairfax into the rural areas that want to hunt, but this is going to affect the rural areas. It’s going to affect hunting and it’s going to affect the Lord’s day.”
Flint Hill resident Ron Maxwell, who wrote several letters advocating the continued ban on Sunday hunting in 2012, agreed with Wright, saying he was still concerned about the issues presented therein, and called the bills’ passage “a disappointing turn of events.”
“The following opinion . . . does not come from someone who wishes to see the Second Amendment undermined or hunting outlawed,” Maxwell wrote in 2012. “But you can love the Constitution, respect hunters and endorse sensible and safe conditions all at the same time . . . I understand that this is a rural community with lots of wild critters scampering through the brush and trees, but we humans live here, too.”
Maxwell, and many others who agreed with the ban, had concerns about the safety issues Sunday hunting presented, as well as noise pollution. “A few years ago a bullet fired from the edge of my property lodged in an exterior wall just inches away from my daughter’s head as she sat peaceably in a rocking chair . . . We who live with guns and around guns know the lethal power they employ . . . At some point we must admit the obvious: Rappahannock County is no longer a wilderness area.”
The Virginia Farm Bureau also opposed the bill, but approached it from a financial standpoint. “We’re not necessarily convinced that the economic boom will happen because hunting seasons are so long,” said Virginia Farm Bureau lobbyist Wilmer Stoneman. “An extra day isn’t really going to bring that much money to the commonwealth.”
Brady disagreed with that sentiment, countering that an extra day “might make it worthwhile for out-of-state hunters” to obtain an out-of-state license and visit Virginia. The extra day is also a boon to working hunters who could previously only hunt one day a week, Brady said.
“Hunters support so much in this state,” Brady said. “It’s also good for the non-sport species — it’s good for the cardinals, for the rabbits, for everything.”
Stonewall-Hawthorne supervisor Chris Parrish agreed with Maxwell about the noise factor and suggested he’d have liked to see more compromise. “I’m opposed to it, but I’m not opposed to bow hunting. I thought that would have been a good compromise and would have taken care of the noise and danger concerns.”
Parrish, who added that he allows several people to hunt on his property, said he’d like to see a bill introduced next year that amended HB 1237 to allow individual counties to determine a ban on Sunday hunting. “I’d like to see one that disallowed gun hunting on Sunday, but continued to allow bow hunting. But it looks like that battle is lost.”
In contrast, Sperryville’s Bill Fletcher, who also rents “a large portion” of his property out to private hunting, is “all for Sunday hunting,” especially as it benefits those who work during the week and can only hunt on Saturdays.
“There’s a tremendous increase of deer and bear in this county, and they need to be trimmed down a bit . . . I say leave it up to the landowner — he’s the best one to decide what goes on on his property. I don’t think the state should be meddling in it.
“It’s my property, I pay taxes on it, I should decide what I do on it.”