By Liz Butterfield
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Two bills seeking to allow Sunday hunting of deer and wild animals on private Virginia property and state waters are progressing through the General Assembly. However, hunting with dogs or hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship would be prohibited.
The House passed House Bill 1237 this past week and sent the legislation to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources. Senate Bill 154 is expected to go before the full Senate next week.
Although seen as a bipartisan bill by many in the General Assembly, the bills are facing unanticipated push-back from some rural area representatives and the Virginia Farm Bureau.
Del. Tommy Wright, R-Victoria, 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.”
A self-proclaimed “avid” hunter and lifelong NRA member, Wright said he doesn’t believe the extra day of hunting will have a positive economic impact on his community.
“We hear that argument over and over again,” he said. “The statistics show there has been no [economic] improvement and [increase in] hunting-license sales in states that have had Sunday hunting.” Wright said more than 95 percent of his constituents who contacted him about the bill do not support Sunday hunting legislation.
“It’ll be a big impact negatively on hunting in general,” Wright said, “and on the lifestyle we’ve enjoyed . . . the peace and quiet in rural Virginia we’ve enjoyed.”
Patron of the House bill, Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said the legislation is meant to counter the decline of hunting-license purchases in Virginia. Gilbert said license purchases have decreased by 50 percent over the past 30 years.
“Virginia has such a strong hunting heritage that we thought this would be a great opportunity to attempt to reverse that trend,” Gilbert said. “Where I live, the high-powered rifle season for deer is only two weeks long. So if you’re a hardworking person, you really only have two Saturdays in which to engage in that activity all year. This would simply give you a couple extra days to enjoy a sport you love and be able to put food on the table.”
The Virginia Farm Bureau is lobbying the General Assembly against lifting the ban on Sunday hunting. ”Hunting on Sundays will cause conflict among a lot of people,” said Virginia Farm Bureau lobbyist Wilmer Stoneman.
The bureau represents approximately 30,000 members in the commonwealth. Stoneman said the bureau does not believe lifting the ban on Sunday will have a positive impact on the state because hunters typically choose to hunt on either Saturday or Sunday, not both.
“We’re not necessarily convinced that the economic boom will happen because hunting seasons are so long,” Stoneman said. “An extra day isn’t really going to bring that much money to the commonwealth.”
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.