A compromise to allow Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania isn’t winning many fans, but it might be enough to get hunting legalized for a few Sundays each year.
The state Senate last week approved a bill that would lift Pennsylvania’s long-standing ban on Sunday hunting, allowing residents to hunt on one Sunday during rifle season, one Sunday during archery season and another to be determined.
The original bill introduced by Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, sought to legalize Sunday hunting throughout the year, but Republican senators negotiated with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau to reign in the scope of Sunday hunting.
Laughlin has long wanted to legalize Sunday hunting, but this is the first year he’s been able to get a bill through committee. He offered an amendment last week reducing the number of Sunday hunting days to three a year, which was enough to get it passed through the chamber, 36-14.
The state Farm Bureau still “carries a lot of weight with the Legislature,” Laughlin said. But despite the changes, the Farm Bureau still opposes the latest version of the bill because it is missing provisions the farm group considers crucial.
The bill, for instance, does not require a hunter to have written permission from property owners to hunt on their land on a given Sunday.
“Our farmers believe it’s very important that they know that if they would agree to allow (Sunday hunting), that they get the written permission,” said Mark O’Neill, Farm Bureau director of media and communications. “It’s an obvious thing: If hunters want to show that they care ... they should be getting official written permission to do so.”
Sens. Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, and Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, both voted in favor of the bill. After the amendment, Martin wanted to “give it a whirl and see how it works,” he said last week.
“Hopefully this is enough to make everybody happy,” Martin said.
It is not.
Sportsmen not satisfied
While the Farm Bureau contends the bill doesn’t do enough to protect property owners, sportsmen would like to maximize their opportunities to hunt.
The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists said the change to three days is “disappointing,” but the organization is “encouraged” because more people would be able to hunt in the commonwealth, said Harold Daub, the group’s executive director.
Pennsylvania has banned most hunting on Sundays since it was founded as a British colony, as part of its so-called “blue laws” to prohibit work or recreation on the “Lord’s day,” according to colonial law. The restriction was officially put on the books in 1873. State law currently prohibits all hunting on Sundays, except for the hunting of crows, coyotes and foxes.
“Here we are, sitting in Pennsylvania, and we are prohibiting hunting for everything but coyotes, foxes and crows,” Daub said. “No one really is putting those things on their table. ... They’re not a really popular species to get people excited about hunting.”
Many people have stopped hunting because they don’t have enough time in a week, Daub said. Others have stopped hunting in Pennsylvania and purchased property in neighboring states, all of which have legalized Sunday hunting. That migration of hunters hurts the state Game Commission because it cuts into its main revenue source: licenses and permits.
“The big word is ‘opportunity,’ ” Daub said. “If you don’t have the opportunity to hunt, you’re not going to participate.”
The Sunday hunting bill was assigned to the House Game and Fisheries Committee, and leaders have told Laughlin they’re committed to moving the legislation after the summer recess.
While the PFSC supports this legislation, its main goal is to repeal the law that bans Sunday hunting altogether and give full authority to the state Game Commission. His organization is upset that the Farm Bureau is involved in hunting and conservancy matters at all, let alone the only organization given a seat at the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, the bill’s main sponsor is hoping for the bill to advance. “I look forward to all of the opportunities that young families will have to go out on Sunday and hunt,” Laughin said.
Don Ranck, whose family owns Verdant View Farms and is vice president of the Lancaster County Farm Bureau, said he hadn’t read over the changes to the bill yet, but wasn’t opposed to it.
“I can see that they’re trying to compromise. I’m not opposed to compromise,” Ranck said.