HARRISBURG – A Senate bill would fully repeal the state’s limits on Sunday hunting, a year after the state allowed Sunday hunting on a limited basis for the first time.
Act 107 of 2019, which was introduced as Senate Bill 147, allowed the Pennsylvania Game Commission to designate three Sundays for hunting. Last year, Sunday hunting debuted in Pennsylvania with hunting allowed on Sunday, Nov. 15 for archery deer hunting and the following two Sundays for firearms bear season and firearms deer season.
Senate Bill 607 would completely repeal the Sunday hunting ban and allow the Game Commission to determine how many hunting seasons should include Sunday hunting.
The move to allow Sunday hunting has long been opposed by farm groups who’ve said that landowners don’t want to be bothered by having hunters on Sunday.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which did not come out against Senate Bill 147 is opposed to Senate Bill 607, said Liam Migdail, a spokesman for the Farm Bureau.
Vince Phillips, a retired lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Grange, said that the move to fully repeal the Sunday hunting ban is no surprise and is a move that opponents had feared would follow after lawmakers approved the limited expansion in 2019.
“The Sunday hunting ban repeal was like the proverbial camel with his nose under the tent,” Phillips said.
Migdail said that the Farm Bureau dropped its opposition to SB 147 because that legislation included compromises to address the concerns of rural landowners.
“Senate Bill 607 would renege on that compromise by granting the Game Commission carte blanche to set Sunday hunting rules,” he said. “Taking decisions about Sunday hunting away from the General Assembly would significantly hamper landowners’ ability to have their voices heard through their elected representatives.”
The new legislation was introduced on April 27 by state Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, the chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee. Laughlin was also the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 147 which became Act 107.
“These three days were extremely successful, and exceptionally safe. The Game Commission reported no hunting-related shooting incidents on any of those days. Additionally, implementing the three Sundays contributed to the increase of 25,152 licenses sold in the previous year. The additional opportunities that are available to hunters are paying huge dividends,” Laughlin said.
Through May 31, the Game Commission had sold 886,654 general hunting licenses, said Travis Lau, a Game Commission spokesman. The Game Commission’s fiscal year ends on June 30, and last year only about 500 hunting licenses were sold in June, he said.
The number of hunting licenses sold in 2020-2021 was more than the prior three years.
There were 941,970 shunting licenses sold in 2009-2010, according to the Game Commission.
“Over the past 40 years, hunting license sales have been steadily declining across the nation. Countless surveys and research have been conducted in an attempt to determine the cause of this decline. Over and over, the number one answer to why people quit hunting is ‘lack of time,’” Laughlin said in a memo seeking support for SB 607.
Lau said that Game Commission surveys suggest that license sales increased after the state in 2019 moved the opening day of deer hunting season from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday after the holiday.
“We do not yet have data showing how Sunday hunting contributed to this year’s increase. But we are conducting two separate surveys this spring/summer to learn more about the impact of the Sunday seasons on license purchases,” he said.
SB 607 has been referred to the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, but no vote on the bill has been scheduled.
John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.