Pennsylvania’s nearly century and a half ban on most forms of hunting on Sundays will probably end soon thanks to a Harrisburg compromise on the issue.
Given how big a step it is — and the significant and legitimate opposition it faced — the compromise that brings its end should be the rule for a while, not a small step toward a quick leap to unraveling it.
Legislation to allow Sunday hunting — for game beyond the current restriction to crows, foxes and coyotes — passed a key committee thanks to an agreement reached last month with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
The three Sundays of hunting to be allowed under the bill — one following the opening of archery deer season, one following the new Saturday start of firearm deer season and another to be determined by the state Game Commission — is a far smaller step than supporters of a relaxation of the ban had originally sought. They wanted 14 Sundays per year open to hunting.
Supporters certainly appear to have won their legislative fight fairly. They cited significant concerns such as a decline in hunting and the need for hunting revenue for game land conservation in Pennsylvania. They hope an extra weekend day will allow more young people to hunt, increasing its popularity among a new generation and generating revenue to continue to take care of Pennsylvania’s forests.
Saying, as some have, that Pennsylvania’s Sunday hunting ban, which dates to 1873, is “archaic” merely for being old; and pointing to the rarity of the ban — Pennsylvania is one of only 11 states with statutes that either ban or restrict hunting on Sundays — is equally unpersuasive.
The ban has benefits for others who enjoy Pennsylvania’s natural beauty, and for farmers who welcome hunters, just not on Sundays. Pennsylvania’s limit on Sunday hunting has lasted as long as it has because of these advantages for people who want to enjoy the woods without taking safety precautions required during hunting seasons.
“Hikers and trail users really want that day to not worry about being in the woods,” according to Joe Neville, executive director of the Keystone Trails Association, which continues to oppose any crack in the Sunday hunting ban.
Neville said the current day of rest from hunting has been more than break from having to wear orange for hikers, bird watchers and others who share a love of Penn’s Woods equal to that of those who harvest deer, bears, elk, wild turkeys and other game here.
Trail maintenance days are often held on Sundays, Neville said. And he fears the three-day exception to Pennsylvania’s traditional Sunday hunting ban is just the beginning.
“We view this as the camel’s nose under the tent,” Neville said.
What supporters should get from the Sunday hunting test run that appears ready to become law in Pennsylvania is just that: a test run.
Only after several years of three days of Sunday hunting should any expansion be considered. In that time, all the issues raised in the debate over the change should be assessed: its effectiveness in driving up interest in the sport, and its impact on hikers and private property owners who open their land to hunting.
Pennsylvania’s hunting ban is due for a relaxation, but it should not be repealed. And further relaxation of it should come only if there’s strong evidence of a need for it.
The Reading Eagle