HARRISBURG – A proposal to end the state’s 300-plus year ban on Sunday hunting hit a roadblock Tuesday in a dispute over whether the legislation should require hunters to obtain written permission from landowners.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has indicated that it would drop its opposition to the plan with the written permission added.
The state Senate approved a measure to allow Sunday hunting in June without the written permission requirement. Lawmakers at a Tuesday Game and Fisheries Committee hearing said that the legislation in its original form, would have allowed hunting on as many as 14 Sundays a year. The legislation that passed the Senate cut the number of Sundays on which hunting would be allowed to three.
The Sunday hunting measure has the support of hunting organizations and the National Rifle Association.
Harold Daub, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, called the legislation “a good start” and said the House should pass it.
Lawmakers expressed skepticism of the idea of requiring written permission to hunt on private property on Sunday when no similar requirement exists the rest of the week when verbal permission is sufficient.
State Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny County, said that the potential for requiring written permission ought to be considered in a separate bill and shouldn’t hold up the Sunday hunting proposal.
“I’d like to see this pass this year,” said Kortz, the Democratic chair of the Game and Fisheries Committee.
Darrin Youker, state government affairs director for the Farm Bureau, said that the group’s position has always been that the written permission requirement is needed to overcome the organization’s long-standing opposition to Sunday hunting.
He said that the requirement would benefit both landowners and hunters since hunters would be able to easily prove they are allowed to be hunting in an area if they are questioned by law enforcement.
Ohio has a similar written permission requirement in place, Youker said. "It's not a new concept," he said.
State Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York County, said after the Tuesday hearing that he will poll committee members to determine what kind of support there is for voting on the measure. Gillespie said he intends to vote no on the proposal because he’s surveyed constituents in his district and found that residents are against Sunday hunting by a 2-to-1 margin.
Pennsylvania is one of just three states that bans Sunday hunting. The others are Maine and Massachusetts, according to testimony provided to lawmakers.
Proponents of the change say it’s needed to slow the decline in the number of people hunting.
“In 1937, the ban on fishing on Sundays was repealed,” Daub said. “Does anyone doubt that we would be selling less fishing licenses today if we were not permitted to fish on Sunday?”
But opponents said that the track record in other states doesn’t demonstrate that Sunday hunting does much to reverse the decline in hunters.
“Pennsylvania’s hunting population peaked in 1983 and has since been in slow decline,” said Joe Neville, executive director of the Keystone Trails Association. “This mirrors hunting participation in the rest of the country, including states that have long allowed Sunday hunting. Michigan, for example, has 100,000 fewer hunters today than 10 years ago.”
His group opposes Sunday hunting because it gives other outdoors enthusiasts one day a week in which they can go into the woods without hearing gunfire.
Neville said that surveys show that among young people, other outdoor activities are becoming more popular than hunting. The Outdoor Industry Association’s 2018 Outdoor Participation Report found that only 6.2 percent of those surveyed said they hunt, while 16 percent said they hike.
Dave Weber, state director for the NRA, said that Pennsylvania's existing law "treats hunters as second-class citizens" because outdoor enthusiasts can participate in other activities seven days a week.