The question of allowing Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania continues to be a hot button, evoking a wide range of opinion and emotion among hunters and non-hunters alike. To begin, let me reiterate that personally my dog is not in this fight. I have always preferred to hunt on weekdays and for most of my life had jobs that allowed me to take days off to do so. But examining the issue objectively and unselfishly, if I were a policymaker charged with making a decision on the matter, I would have to vote "yes" for Sunday hunting based on all the facts regarding the subject.
Since I wrote a short column about Sunday hunting back in July, I've had the chance to talk to many folks, especially non-hunters, about this controversial topic. Through those discussions, I've learned the public holds harbors many misconceptions about hunters and hunting in Pennsylvania.
The one misconception I find most unsettling is it is not safe to be in the woods during hunting season. Many non-hunters who have expressed opposition to Sunday hunting say that is the only day they can go for a walk in the woods or otherwise enjoy the outdoors in the fall. It's almost as if they perceive merely setting foot in the forest during any day in hunting season is an invitation to be shot. That notion is simply far-fetched, unfounded and somewhat ridiculous, and I say that both as a hunter and as one who spends many days in the woods each fall and winter during the hunting seasons participating in activities other than hunting.
In fact, the notion that Sunday hunting isn't permitted in Pennsylvania is not entirely accurate either. Coyotes can be hunted 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Foxes can be hunted on Sundays and also at night from mid-October through mid-February. Crows can be hunted on Sundays from July 1 until the first week in April. Certainly these species are unlikely to draw high numbers of hunters to any given place on any given day, but folks out for a Sunday stroll should be aware they have always faced the possibility of sharing the woods with hunters pursuing these varmints.
If Sunday hunting in general was to become a reality in Pennsylvania, non-hunters should have no reason to discontinue enjoying the outdoors during hunting season. It would probably be prudent to wear some orange or other bright-colored clothing or to avoid the opening days of the more popular seasons. Hunting is actually one of the safest outdoor activities. Although even one accident is too many, Pennsylvania hunters have posted an extremely impressive safety record in recent years due to increased hunter education and overall safety awareness. In reality, you have a much greater chance of being killed or injured while driving to or from your outing than ever being involved in a hunting accident.
Another misconception is that state game lands are public lands for everyone to use. State game lands are open to public use with a few special seasonal restrictions, but unlike other public land such as state forests or state parks, state game lands have been set aside first and foremost as public hunting lands. All 1.5 million acres of state game lands were also purchased entirely by hunters with money spent for hunting licenses. As a hunter, I've always been proud to share these resources with my fellow citizens without any charge to them.
Statistics show that a large majority of Pennsylvania citizens enjoy viewing wildlife and therefore support the obligation of our state government to manage properly all the various species of wildlife that exist in our state. But do you know what percentage of your tax dollars go toward wildlife management and conservation? The answer is zero, zip, nada, not one cent.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is our state agency charged with the management of all 480 species of birds and mammals in Pennsylvania. Unlike most other state agencies, however, the Game Commission is independently funded and receives no general tax dollars. Its primary source of revenue is the sale of hunting licenses and other fees and federal aid derived from excise taxes on guns, ammunition and hunting equipment. Of those 480 species of wildlife, just 57 are hunted as game species. But all the money hunters spend for licenses and equipment to pursue a few dozen birds and animals foots the bill for all wildlife management in Pennsylvania, including the 423 non-game species.
I hope some of these points will provide a better understanding of hunters and hunting to fellow outdoor enthusiasts who don't happen to hunt. Next week, I will address some of the misconceptions that many of my fellow hunters also hold. In the meantime, let me say if Sunday hunting were to happen, I believe after a year or two, most of us would be wondering what all the fuss was about.