The historic expansion of Sunday hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania appears on track to be approved by the state Senate next week, before the bill would then be sent to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.
Assuming Senate Bill 147 clears those last two hurdles, hunters next year will be allowed to hunt deer and possibly other popular game on three Sundays.
Current state law bans Sunday hunting, except for the hunting of foxes, crows and coyotes during open seasons for those species.
SB 147 seeks to expand those opportunities to include hunting on one Sunday during the fall archery deer season; on one Sunday during the firearms deer season; and on one Sunday to be determined by the Pennsylvania Game Commission during any season of the agency’s choosing.
It’s important to note that, while there was a glimmer of hope this summer that this bill might be passed in time to allow Sunday hunting this fall during the archery and firearms deer seasons, the Game Commission has announced that’s not going to happen.
Assuming the bill stays on track to passage, no Sunday hunting will occur in Pennsylvania until 2020.
“However, the Game Commission still would be able to choose one Sunday for hunting in 2020, either in the spring turkey season or another open season,” the agency stated in a news release.
“Many hunters are excited about the new Sunday hunting opportunities Senate Bill 147 would provide, and you can count me as part of that group,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Game Commission.
“But the process takes time. There’s every reason, however, to believe Senate Bill 147 soon will become law, and the Game Commission will be doing its part to implement additional Sunday hunting opportunities as soon as it can.”
The three-Sunday version of SB 147 is a compromise. In its initial form, the bill sought to simply remove the state Legislature from the issue of Sunday hunting, and turn it over to the Game Commission for implementation in any way the agency saw fit.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Keystone Trails Association and others opposed that proposal. The trails group continued to oppose even the latest version of SB 147, but the powerful Farm Bureau moved from opposition to a neutral stance, in exchange for stronger trespassing penalties and a requirement that hunters get written permission to hunt those three Sundays on private property they do not own.
So can hunters, who want to hunt Sundays in Pennsylvania like they can any other day of the week, consider the passage of SB 147 a victory?
I’d argue the answer is, “Yes.”
Consider that in at least 20 years, no bill to expand Sunday hunting in any meaningful manner in Pennsylvania ever even came up for a vote.
They all died when the legislative sessions they were entered in expired.
That SB 147 got as far as it has, and appears to be headed for final approval, is a monumental achievement.
Hunters United for Sunday Hunting is a nonprofit group of Pennsylvania hunters who have advocated for full Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania for several years.
From the time SB 147 was introduced, HUSH did an excellent job of using social media to keep hunters informed about the process and to put out calls for action when it was time for hunters to contact their legislators to urge them to support the bill.
Previous efforts to expand Sunday hunting didn’t see this same level of grassroots mobilization.
As HUSH applauded on its Facebook page the passage of SB 147 by the full House of Representatives two weeks ago, it also offered a post claiming the fight is not finished.
“The greatest barrier to hunting opportunity is time,” the post states. “We believe allowing Sunday hunting will increase hunter satisfaction across the state, potentially slow the decline in hunter participation and increase revenues for local businesses.
“There simply is not a good argument against hunting on Sunday.”
In response to a comment on another post regarding the Sunday hunting legislation on its page, the group stated, “HUSH and the 20 other conservation organizations will continue to work for the PGC to have full regulatory authority (over Sunday hunting). It is the right way forward and best for wildlife conservation.”
As for the general hunting public, I’d suggest these three Sundays can be viewed as an opportunity to disprove the claims made by the Sunday hunting opponents.
The hiking, biking and equestrian groups argued that they want one day each week when they can enjoy the outdoors without worrying about hunters.
Hunters know that studies have shown hunting is one of the safest sports in the world, and that we already share the woods with nonhunters six days a week currently - largely without problems.
Next year, we’ll have three Sundays to prove there won’t be any issues that day of the week either.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau asked for and won rules that make trespassing while hunting a more serious offense in Pennsylvania.
The bureau also requested and won the requirement regarding written permission to hunt those three Sundays.
Darrin Youker, the Farm Bureau’s director of state government affairs, said the bureau’s members are concerned about hunters trespassing on their land.
Now hunters have the opportunity to show their respect for private property owners by not trespassing and by getting the required written permission.
Let’s be honest here. Hunters trespassing on private property is a big problem in this state. If you own and/or hunt private property in Pennsylvania, you know this all too well.
I don’t know why hunters trespass in Pennsylvania. But maybe if hunters quit doing it – either because the penalties are now tougher or, because, you know, it’s just not right – Farm Bureau members won’t be so concerned about that issue, and could be more supportive of allowing hunters more time to be in the field.
I understand HUSH’s position that “there simply is not a good argument against hunting on Sunday.” But I also understand the farmers’ view that the Sunday hunting ban gives them one day a week during hunting season when they can do what they want on their lands without having to think about hunters being out there.
It’s possible for hunters to be thankful for having three Sundays to hunt popular game and still want more. Hunters now have the chance take these new opportunities and prove to state legislators, to farmers, to hikers, bikers and horse riders and other nonhunting outdoor enthusiasts that they deserve them – and more.