There are a lot of reasons why Kathy Davis would like to see the ban on Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania removed.
The prohibition is a “blue law,” Davis said, and is out-dated and unconstitutional. Forty two other states allow Sunday hunting, the sport is safe so safety isn’t an issue and landowners should be allowed to hunt their property any day of the week, she added.
But there is an even bigger reason that compelled Davis, who is president of Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, and her group to file a lawsuit in federal court last week seeking to have the state’s prohibition on Sunday hunting lifted.
That reason has to do with the future of the sport she loves.
Having Sunday’s to hunt would allow children more opportunity to enjoy the sport. Small game season, for example, would be a good starting point for Sunday hunting and giving young hunters more time afield, Davis said.
“Isn’t that really the goal here? Our kids are only have Saturday off from school to hunt now, and that’s a busy day for their sports,” Davis said. “Sunday would give them a chance to get back into hunting. Sundays are critical to passing our tradition on.”
In the lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is named as the defendant even though the agency has gone on record with its support of Sunday hunting. In 2010 the PGC approved a resolution supporting Sunday hunting.
Despite that support, Davis said the agency had to be named because they’re the regulatory agency. Yet it’s that very support that could lead to a resolution in the case. Since the suit has been filed, the PGC and the state Attorney General’s Office has 60 days to respond before a date for mediation is set. Davis is hopeful both sides can sit down and reach an agreement.
“I’m hopeful that will go well,” she said.
Jay Delaney, a commissioner on the PGC board who represents the Northeast Region, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said he did support the Sunday hunting resolution. He cautioned that the resolution wasn’t made with the intent of spawning a lawsuit, but rather to ask the state legislature to consider giving the PGC regulatory authority over Sunday hunting.
“The resolution doesn’t say we’ll enact it. We just want the authority to be with the Game Commission,” Delaney said.
The state legislature has made several attempts over the last 15 years to remove the Sunday hunting ban, with no success. The last time was in 2011 when now-retired state Rep. Ed Staback introduced a bill giving the Game Commission the authority to enact Sunday hunting. The measure stalled in the House Game and Fisheries Committee, but Davis was pleased to see the support and talk that the bill generated on the issue.
Despite the failed attempts in the state legislature, Davis is optimistic success will be had at the federal court level because Sunday hunting is more about a constitutional right than politics and public opinion.
Still, there are opponents of Sunday hunting who have been equally vocal over the years. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which has 58,300 members, has opposed Sunday hunting anytime the issue has come up. Mark O’Neill, spokesman for PFB, said the organization still opposes any expansion of Sunday hunting.
O’Neill also pointed out that a good number of farm bureau members are also hunters, but they still oppose Sunday hunting.
“The last time this issue came up we had a policy vote on Sunday hunting and it was 94 percent in opposition. That’s pretty staggering,” O’Neill said. “Although we may have been the leaders in opposition, we aren’t alone. There are hikers, bird watchers, bikers as well. And not all hunters are for this either.”
O’Neill said the PFB opposes Sunday hunting because farmers appreciate having that one day a week to work on or enjoy their property without having to worry about interference from hunting. He said farmers could post their land against hunting on Sundays, but many believe there will be issues with some hunters who won’t abide by it.
“There is a concern that some would ignore it, and some of our farmers told us they would just post their land ‘No Hunting’ instead of just no hunting on Sunday,” O’Neill said. “That would be a shame because farmers and hunters have generally developed good relationships.
“We will be monitoring this lawsuit and if there’s a reason for us to file a brief, we’ll keep our options open.”
While Davis would like to see small game hunting opportunities on Sunday as a way to attract youth to the sport, she is fine with leaving the ultimate decision up to the Game Commission. She said Sunday hunting could be implemented with any species.
“If the Game Commission doesn’t believe our deer population can handle an additional day, I don’t have a problem with that,” Davis said. “But I prefer they not exclude it.”
Davis said her organization is accepting donations to carry the matter through the legal process and the feedback so far has been positive. That’s another reason why she is hopeful that Pennsylvania will soon join the other 42 states that allow Sunday hunting.
“You can go to a bar, casino or strip club after church on a Sunday, but you can’t hunt. It’s an antiquated law that has no business in everyday life,” Davis said. “Why should I be restricted on Game Lands, my private land or private land I have permission to hunt on?”