Spring of 2020 remains the target date for removing the legislative prohibition on Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania.
But the job of reaching it starts right now.
That was the message delivered this weekend by leaders of Hunters United for Sunday Hunting. The group held a rally at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s headquarters Sunday to mobilize sportsmen and women.
State Sen. Dan Laughlin, an Erie County Republican, sponsored Senate Bill 1202 back in June. It would remove the prohibition on Sunday hunting and allow the commission to decide which Sundays to incorporate into existing seasons.
It would also – in a move meant to appease landowners, namely Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members – increase the fines for trespassing and allow game wardens to enforce those laws.
With lawmakers in session for just a few more days this year, though, there’s virtually no chance that bill will move before year’s end, said Robb Miller, Gov. Tom Wolf’s sportsmen’s advisor.
But Laughlin – together with Sen. Jim Brewster, an Allegheny County Democrat – said he will introduce it again in January.
Hunters who want to see it move then can set the stage for that in the next several weeks, said Harold Daub, chairman of the Hunters United groups.
All 203 state representatives are up for re-election in November, as are 25 of the state’s 50 senators.
Now, Daub said, is the time to find out where candidates stand on Sunday hunting. Hunters should make it clear how important this issue is to them.
“Don’t be bashful – be respectful, but don’t be bashful – about being a one-issue voter,” he told those in attendance at the weekend rally.
The need for Sunday hunting is real, he and others believe.
Declining participation in hunting, in Pennsylvania and nationally, is why.
Samantha Pedder, director of business development for the National Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports, said a recent survey revealed that there were 400,000 fewer hunters in America in 2017 than there were in 1991. That doesn’t seem like a terrible drop, she admitted, until you realize that the nation’s population grew by 76 million people over that same time.
The hunters remaining are aging, she said. Younger hunters are not replacing them on a one-to-one basis.
“That backfill is not necessarily happening,” Pedder said. “Adding another day to the plate to go hunting could bring them back in.”
Daub agreed, saying that the state’s Sunday hunting prohibition is increasingly a barrier.
“The world has changed. Not everybody works 9 to 5 five days a week anymore. We need time,” Daub said. “Time is the big thing.”
Laughlin said he knows that himself.
He and a brother own a hunting camp, he said. In years past, they would take their five children to hunt with them.
Those children are adults now, though, some living out of state, with all of the commitments that come with new jobs and families. And none hunted this past year.
They would have if they could have hunted on a Sunday, he noted. But they didn’t have that option and as result they – and others like them – are drifting away, Laughlin said.
And the longer they’re away, the less likely it is they’ll return to hunting, he fears.
“Three, four years without hunting, it’s almost a lost cause. They’re not coming back. It’s sad to say, but I’ve seen it in my own family,” Laughlin said.
“So the harm that is being done to our sport by not allowing this will never be undone. But we can at least prevent further damage.”
A number of other states apparently agree.
Lawmakers in three – West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina – removed similar prohibitions on Sunday hunting within the past 18 months.
That leaves a half dozen or so that ban it.
Opponents to Sunday hunting cite a number of reasons, Daub said. One is that it will lead to too many white-tailed deer killed.
But Sunday hunting and deer harvests are “mutually exclusive,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Game Commission.
“One had nothing to do with the other. You could actually hunt every day of the year if you wanted to and I can still manage the number of deer I’m taking off the landscape,” he said. “We do that through antlerless allocations.”
What he can’t manage, he said, is hunting license sales. Pennsylvania is seeing declines there, just as every other state, he noted.
Sales in September were down 4.5 percent compared to a year ago, Burhans said. August sales were down 3.5 percent.
“It’s my fear that if we don’t remove barriers to hunting, we will continue to see the decline,” Burhans added. “Sunday hunting isn’t going to double our numbers. But it can at least stop the bleeding, it can slow the loss of our hunters over the landscape.”
The biggest opponent to Sunday hunting in the legislature remains the Pennsylvania Farr Bureau, Laughlin said. He’s hoping the trespass changes in his bill will mollify that group.
Farmers are “our people,” he said. They have a symbiotic relationship with hunters, one that he said needs to be strengthened with Sunday hunting.
“I’ve told them, if we lose our hunters, who cares about the farmer? The kids playing Xbox? They don’t even know food comes from a farm,” Laughlin said. “So the hunters are their friends.”
Miller agreed, but said it falls to hunters to carry that message: to farmers, the public at large and especially the legislature.
“This is a grassroots effort,” Miller said.
The group’s goal all along has been to end the prohibition on Sunday hunting during the 2019-20 legislative session, he noted. “But it’s not too early” to start talking to lawmakers, he said.
Daub agreed, saying the coming elections are critical. Sportsmen and women need to make it clear to lawmakers they care about Sunday hunting and will vote accordingly.
“They can either hear us or we can replace them,” Daub said. “It’s time for us to take control.”
Bob Frye is the Everybody Adventures editor. Reach him at (412) 216-0193 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at EverybodyAdventures.com.