A bill currently making its way through the Pennsylvania Senate would give hunters an extra day each week to ply their trade during hunting season.
Known as Senate Bill 147 (SB 147), the law would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to open up hunting on Sundays during hunting seasons on an at will basis. The law cleared the Senate’s Games & Fisheries Committee on Feb. 5.
“This bill is for Pennsylvania’s young people, to get them outdoors when they have more time available, and obviously many of our older hunters would like to spend more time in the field as well,” Senator Dan Laughlin (R-49), chairman of the committee, said.
The senator described the prohibition on Sunday hunting as one of Pennsylvania’s last “Blue Laws,” which are rules based on religious morality usually pertaining to banning activities on Sundays. Other examples of Blue Laws are preventing the purchase of alcohol or cars on Sundays, the latter of which is in effect in Pennsylvania.
Under the current prohibition, only three animals in Pennsylvania can be hunted on Sundays. These are coyotes, which are permitted to be shot year-round, and foxes and crows, which are limited to certain seasons.
The bill has the backing of the Game Commission according to Chip Brunst, information and education supervisor for the agency’s Northwest region. In particular, Brunst said the commission sees the change as a way to get more young people involved in hunting.
“When you first get out of college and are starting a family, a lot of people are working on Saturday, or at least Sunday morning, and don’t have time to go hunting,” he said.
The Game Commission has seen a declining number of hunters for sometime now. Brunst said that when he first joined the department in 1989, there were around 1.2 million hunters active on the first day of deer season. Now, that number has decreased to around 700,000.
This is a concern to the Game Commission because hunting is considered the number one management tool for controlling wildlife populations, according to Brunst. Without that control, several problems can arise.
“The less hunters we have, the more deer we have,” he said. “The more deer, the more accidents, the more bushes that get eaten on the edge of town, the more farmers’ crops get eaten. It’s a vicious cycle.”
The prohibition was actually first put into place due to overhunting, however. Brunst said it was enacted in the early 1900s due to a decimation of the deer population during what he called the “era of exploitation.”
There has been pushback to the bill, some of which comes from the hunters themselves. Brunst said that many outdoorsmen are very traditional and not hunting on Sundays is a custom “entrenched in Pennsylvania.”
One of those opposing the bill is Senator Scott E. Hutchinson (R-21).
“I am a hunter,” Hutchinson said while explaining his reasoning. “I’ve hunted my whole life. I’m a member of the NRA, but I think there are a lot of downsides to Sunday hunting and I would say I’d be against it.”
Hutchinson presented three reasons he is ultimately against the bill. The first of which is a claim that he’s heard many farmers and other landowners across the state would close their land to hunting if Sunday hunting is permitted, something he called a “huge loss.”
The senator did not give a specific reason the land would be closed off, saying that the owners gave him a variety of motives for doing so.
Hutchinson also said that there would be a negative economic impact of Sunday hunting, as retail businesses that rely on hunters going shopping for supplies on Sundays would see a drop in sales.
“If you lose those inbetween days like that, they’re afraid of a loss of business,” he said.
He also supports giving non-hunter nature enthusiasts a chance to have a day without having to worry about hunters so they may go hiking, horseback riding or other such activities.
Brunst said that while SB 147 allows for Sunday hunting at the Game Commission’s discretion, there is a chance the agency will not fully open the flood gates if the bill is passed, instead only opting to do a few days to test the waters.
“Then again, they might just open it up all together,” he said. “Who knows?”
Hutchinson also noted that the bill seemed to be moving rather quickly and said he would prefer to have more debate on it. He called it odd that the Games & Fisheries Committee moved so rapidly to vote on the bill at the start of the year.
The Herald reached out to Senator Michele Brooks’ (R-50) multiple times, but did not receive a reply back on whether she plans to support the change.
Currently, SB 147 is awaiting its second consideration, after going through its first on Feb. 5. Under Pennsylvania law, all bills must go through at least three considerations before they can be voted on. Should it pass, it will then move to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
However, there is no set time schedule for when bills must be put up for consideration, and Hutchinson said that it is possible it may not be put up for a second consideration at all.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.