Scoping out Sunday hunting

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If the state legislature approves, church bells could soon be one of two familiar sounds that ring out on Sundays – the other being the gunshots of hunters.

As of this week, local reaction to plans to allow Sunday hunting was spirited but mixed, as it is across the state – which remains one of just 10 states that ban hunting on Sundays.

Over the years, previous attempts to end Virginia’s Sunday hunting restriction have generally not made it through the senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee – which last week voted 11-4 to move the bill forward.

The bill recommended by the panel would permit hunting on Sundays only on private land in Virginia, with permission from the landowner. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Several other Sunday hunting bills – including a nearly identical bill introduced to the Virginia House of Delegates by our own newly elected Del. Michael Webert (R-18) – have emerged after the state Board of Game and Inland Fisheries passed a resolution last June in support of Sunday hunting in Virginia. For years, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) had remained neutral on the topic. The board cited constitutional, biological and economic incentives as motivation for supporting Sunday hunting.

The Sabbath and the revenue stream

“The Virginia Farm Bureau does not support Sunday hunting,” said Philip Shenk, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s senior district field services director, on Monday. “Many of our members are religious, so there’s the issue with the Sabbath; and many of our members have families, and Sunday is the only day of the week during the winter hunting season that people feel safe letting their kids play outside.”

In a Jan. 16 email to VFBF members, Shenk and VFBF’s government relations department urged members to contact local representatives – including the names and contact information for several members of congress in the email – to express opposition to lifting a prohibition on Sunday hunting that can be traced back to Virginia’s days as a British colony.

Longtime Woodville resident and sponsor of a private bird hunting club, Bill Fletcher, said he supports the new bill allowing Sunday hunting on private lands.

“The time for Sunday hunting is now,” Fletcher said, accusing the farm bureau of being out of touch with local farmers and only representing “the interests of the few.” “The problem is, we’ve got a plethora of game in this area and a lot of the locals don’t have time to hunt because they’re off working all week. If I work all week and have a farm and want to go hunt on the weekend, it shouldn’t be a crime to do so.”

Castleton resident and musician Ben Mason, on the other hand, is among those who want the Sunday ban to continue.

“Sunday is a day of rest, a day for family, a day I like to be able to go out with my kids and don’t have to wear an orange vest and hold a megaphone to avoid being mistaken for a deer,” Mason said. “Six days of hunting is enough.”

Mason said he has noticed that recently “more and more groups of hunters have been coming from the city to hunt here, and opening hunting on Sundays would bring even more hunters from the city.”

In fact, recruiting hunters from out of the area was a primary motivator for the state game board’s support for lifting the Sunday ban.

“Virginia would become more attractive to hunters from out-of-state and for resident hunters who choose to travel several hours to their favorite hunting destinations,” VDGIF stated in a June 2011 report announcing its support of Sunday hunting. Having a full weekend to hunt would encourage greater participation and greater additional revenue for more rural communities in the form of lodging, food, gasoline and equipment, VDGIF’s statement added.

“Well, I think [allowing Sunday hunting] is a great idea,” said J.D. Hartman, owner of High on the Hog BBQ in Sperryville. Hartman, an avid deer hunter and local landowner, noted that a lot of working men he knows only get one day off a week – Sunday – meaning they can’t hunt at all during the season. “There’re too many deer, and it’s better to have hunters kill deer than cars. At least we can eat the ones we shoot, instead of having them rotting on the roadsides.”

Sperryville glassblower and longtime Rappahannock resident Eric Kvarnes agreed with Hartman, for another reason: “I’ve never met a deer that went to church on Sundays.”

Stonewall-Hawthorne district supervisor and VFBF member Chris Parrish thinks that the new Sunday hunting bill being considered by the full senate is going to be a mess, and will open the door to abuse.

“A lot of farmers, myself included, lease out the hunting rights – and Sunday is the only day where you feel safe walking around,” Parrish said, adding that hunting groups paying a lot to hunt on your property are obviously going to want that extra day of hunting. “And say your neighbor allows it and you don’t, those bullets . . . travel a long way. We will lose Sunday’s peace and quiet, and peace of mind.”

1 Comment

  1. Sunday hunting was proposed and approved in WV about three years ago, but it took a peculiar form: it was left up to county referendum – of those counties (about 47) that placed it on the ballot, it was defeated. For those counties that did not place it on the ballot (about 7), it was approved by defualt. So 7 counties have hunting in WV on Sunday, most do not. There are some other complicating conditions, but you can look this up on the web.


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