RALEIGH — The decree dates back to 1868: no hunting on Sunday, the Lords day a time of rest for all creatures.
After 145 years, North Carolina still forbids taking animals with pistol, rifle or shotgun on the Sabbath. Any attempt to change the law since then has fallen flat, mostly for religious reasons.
Opponents from the church fear losing their flocks to the tree stands, picture bullets whizzing through parking lots and object to violating a rule first set down by Moses.
But now, a bill in the N.C. Senate aims to open the woods to Sunday hunting with firearms, provided its on private land and the landowner gives written permission.
Theres a sense that the idea has a greater chance this year, given a Republican-controlled legislature more friendly to firearms and wary of regulation.
Theres also less chance that hunting advocates will bump up against hikers, bikers and horseback-riders who want hunter-free trails. Public land would still off-limits on Sunday.
But the bill raises problems even for its conservative supporters, who must walk a delicate line between hunters and churchgoers, whose votes they tend to court. The debate over Sabbath-day shooting will show how much the states attitude has changed in 145 years.
I sing in the church choir, said Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican from Wilson, who sponsored the bill. My family is not going to skip church to go hunting. But hunting is a very wholesome and positive heritage that we have in North Carolina. ... People can hunt in the morning and go to a late service.
Nationwide, 11 states either prohibit or restrict Sunday hunting. Rules vary, but North Carolinas apply to all but military installations and include hunting with shotguns, rifles and pistols.
Newtons effort is one of many in recent years. A bill to lift the Sunday ban was sidelined in 2009. Three failed to pass in 2005.
Sunday hunting got a small boost in 2009, when the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission allowed bow-hunting and falconry on private lands rules that the General Assembly did not block.
But opposition remains heavy statewide. In 2006, a study performed for the wildlife commission showed 65 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Sunday hunting, nearly two-thirds of them for Ten Commandment or Lords day reasons.
Benefits and costs
The state study included focus groups with hunters and clergy, telephone surveys with North Carolina residents and an economic analysis.
Hunters spent $484 million in North Carolina in 2005, the study said. Wildlife Resources Commission spokesman Geoff Cantrell said that figure has risen since then, and the study said the state could expect another $7.6 million from licenses and permits were Sunday hunts allowed.
Many hunters come to North Carolina just to hunt native species such as black bear and swan, said Dick Hamilton with the conservation group N.C. Wildlife Federation. Sunday bans drive them to nearby states.
They come on Saturday and only get to stay one day, he said.
The 2006 study also said, though, that the state would need to add, train and equip extra game wardens, and that such an effort would outweigh the benefits by $1.3 million.
Still, the commission passed a resolution endorsing the idea Thursday, stating, North Carolina residents currently seek hunting opportunities in neighboring states that offer Sunday hunting thereby generating economic activity outside of North Carolina instead of providing substantial economic benefits to rural areas and businesses. The Sunday ban serves no purpose toward wildlife conservation, according to the commissions resolution.
Avid hunters in the Triangle look forward to an extra day.
Mark Etter owns land near Oxford on which he would love to hunt on Sundays, especially during deer season. Other hunters he knows have kids who play sports on Saturdays, making forays into the woods hard to schedule.
If youre going to outlaw hunting on Sunday, why not outlaw fishing and golf? asked Etter, who is also treasurer with the Wake County chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. A lot of people say you should be in church, and maybe thats how you feel, but it should be my option.
But a persistent opponent, the Christian Action League of North Carolina, argues that relaxing the rules will damage the state in several ways.
Threat to the serenity
Traffic in and out of churches is heaviest on Sunday, and places of worship butt up against land that might easily be hunted should the ban be lifted, said the Rev. Mark Creech, the leagues director. Placing the two groups in close proximity is risky, he said.
Sunday hunting poses a threat to the serenity and safety of those churches, he said.
Churches, Creech argued, contribute to North Carolina society in a way its government should recognize rather than frustrate. No matter how you differ on the need for a day of rest, Creech said, most would accept that both man and nature need a day to recover and rewind.
Hunting on Sunday draws people away from nobler and higher thoughts, which is desperately needed in this day of critical challenges, Creech said.
Newton said he hopes to get the bill into committee soon, and that the House will support it.
He called Creech his friend and constituent, and said their collegial relationship wont be spoiled by this bill. Theyve met and spoken, Newton said, but dont always agree.
Unfortunately, not everybody goes to church, Newton said. Also, many churches have lots and lots of services. They are making adjustments to their schedules.