By: Haley Shotwell
Any Virginia hunter who has said that they haven’t at least once thought about heading out to their tree stand on a Sunday morning, is lying. Sunday has always been recognized as a day of rest for not only the hunters, but also the hunted as deer and other game can roam freely without having to keep a weary eye out for something suspicious in the trees. That, however, may be about to change.
As it stands right now, hunters are allowed to hunt Monday through Saturday from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website. The only way hunters can hunt on Sunday is if they are on a licensed hunting preserve.
After clearing the House of Delegates and now most recently the Senate, the bill to legalize Sunday hunting in Virginia is on its way to Governor McAuliffe. But if passed, the new legislation would come with some stipulations. Hunters, who are properly licensed, will be allowed to hunt on private land such as their own or someone else’s.
If hunting on someone else’s land, hunters must carry with them a note with the landowner’s written permission. The new law will also prohibit any hunting within 200 yards of a place of worship (but that only applies on Sundays). That means that it will still be illegal to hunt on public land such as the National Forest on Sundays.
The Sunday hunting bill (HB 1237) passed with relative ease throughout the House last month with a vote of 71-27 and then the Senate passed the bill on Feb. 18, 28-11. All signs point towards the newly elected Governor to approve the bill since he has expressed support for Sunday hunting before but only time will tell.
Avid hunter Keifer Titus thinks this change was way overdue.
“I feel like the law for Sunday hunting should’ve been changed long ago,” he said as he sees no problem with allowing hunting on Sundays.
The bill was originally introduced by Delegate Todd Gilbert from Shenandoah County and Senator Phillip Puckett from Russell County but was killed multiple times when it reached the House floor until finally being passed along this year.
The bill is still receiving opposition and with it being allowed on Sundays it seems
to be adding salt to the wound for those against hunting. With the passing of this law many feel that Sunday will no longer be recognized as the Christian Sabbath and turns in to a normal weekday instead of being the Lord’s Day.
Junior Brandon Garrett also hunts frequently on his own land and does not see a problem with the new legislation allowing an extra hunting day.
“I’m a Christian and I appreciate Sundays being for religious purposes but not everyone has the same beliefs as me so they should be allowed to hunt when they want,” said Garrett.
Another way to look at it is that people who want to take a walk or just enjoy nature on a Sunday afternoon would have to now consider their safety because mistakes can and have happened before not to mention having to hear the loud BOOM of a gun firing.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to ban hunting on Sunday for religious reasons first of all because separation between church and state isn’t practiced and because it will have no interference with religious activities,” Titus said.
The flip side to that argument though is that the hunting season is quite short and hunters want to be able to take advantage of every day they can to be in the woods. With the way it currently stands, some hunters who cannot take off from work get only a couple Saturday’s out of the entire year to hunt. But if the bill passes they will be able to take advantage of the extra day and get a full weekend of hunting in instead of just a day.
Some would also argue, what is the difference between playing a football game or watching a NASCAR race or hunting on a Sunday as it is seen as just another form of recreation. It has also been argued that the percent of hunters in Virginia is less than 3 percent so few people will have a significant change to their Sunday activities. Also with hunters being allowed to hunt more days, the deer population can be more regulated, bringing down the number of deer and car collisions.
“I would like to think many people would take advantage of an extra day and I believe it will help to keep healthier game populations as well as bring more money in to the state’s economy,” Titus said.
Which ever way this bill ends up going, one side is not going to be happy but it would seem that changes are on the way for Virginia’s hunting laws and Sunday’s may be a bit louder come next fall. So for any deer reading, word to the wise: stay close to a church.