Several years ago, I conducted an interview about deer management with a wildlife manager from another state. I don't recall which state he was from, but I do remember he had hunted here in Pennsylvania and was quite familiar with our Game Commission, our hunting seasons and our hunters. That conversation centered mainly on all the turmoil surrounding what were then sweeping changes to our deer management program at that time.
What I remember most about that discussion, however, was the following observation: "In my state, our hunters are always asking us to give them more. More hunting opportunities, longer seasons, things like that. Pennsylvania has always had quite a reputation as a state with a great hunting tradition. Yet when I hear about hunters clamoring for something there, it always seems as if they are asking for less."
At first, that somewhat offhand assessment seemed a little unfounded to me, but upon further reflection, I realized it did indeed hold some merit. Pennsylvania hunters are notorious for taking an extremely conservative approach to their sport and especially any significant changes to it. That's fine, but history has shown repeatedly that sportsmen's opposition to many changes in wildlife management was groundless. Sunday hunting seems to be another one of those instances.
I am constantly amazed by dedicated hunters who are not in favor of Sunday hunting for largely emotional or even selfish reasons. "The animals need a break." No, they don't. "I like having a day off." That's fine, but why impose that sentiment on others who might enjoy more opportunity to hunt?
Another reason often cited is that Sunday hunting will cause more land to be posted. Let's face reality here. The majority of private land here in Pennsylvania is probably already posted or at least not open to unrestricted public hunting access. As a hunter, I find that somewhat regrettable, of course, but I also respect the right of a landowner to do as he sees fit with his property. Therefore, any landowner could just as easily prohibit Sunday hunting on his property if he feels that way.
Declining numbers of hunters remains as one of the greatest threats to the future of hunting. Surveys have shown that more folks in Pennsylvania have quit hunting due to the lack of time rather than access to places to hunt. Sunday hunting could offer the extra opportunity necessary to keep more hunters in the sport.
Perhaps the surest way to understand that most of the opposition to Sunday hunting is overblown is to realize we are one of just a handful of states that does not allow Sunday hunting. As much as I love Pennsylvania, I'm also willing to acknowledge we don't have the market cornered on either morality or common sense. Only about five or six other states currently don't allow Sunday hunting, and the social fabric and the wildlife populations of the other forty-some states haven't seemed to suffer from the fact that hunters there can pursue their sport on a few Sundays each year. But there is no need to take my word for it. We have three shining real-world examples of why all the uproar about Sunday hunting is, in fact, much ado about very little.
Within the last 10 years, Michigan, Ohio and New York all made changes to allow Sunday hunting. Much like Pennsylvania, all three of these states are highly populated and possess a rich hunting tradition. Sunday hunting was banned in Michigan on private land in certain counties until 2003, when all such Sunday hunting closures were repealed. Ohio implemented a three-year test period in 1998 allowing Sunday hunting on public lands; the Ohio legislature made Sunday hunting permanent in 2002. New York also conducted a Sunday hunting trial on three Sundays during deer season in 1996; within five years, all Sunday hunting was allowed in the Empire State.
According to the NRA's Institute for Legislative action, "None of these states have experienced the horror stories forecast by opponents of hunting. The states continue to have healthy wildlife populations. Hunters continue to behave in a responsible and safe manner. Church attendance remains unchanged. Landowner-hunter conflicts have not increased. In sum, Sunday hunting has had nothing but a beneficial impact on these states and the future of hunting in them."
As I've said before, I personally don't care which way the issue of Sunday hunting goes. But as someone who cares deeply about the future of our sport, I believe Sunday hunting will ultimately have a positive effect on that future. I would ask my fellow hunters to put aside their emotions and personal prejudices and support it as well.