Legislation to expand Sunday hunting cleared a divided Senate Rules Committee Tuesday after some minor tweaks supported by religious groups concerned about the impact on churches.
House Bill 559, titled “Outdoor Heritage Enhanced,” goes beyond a 2015 law legalizing Sunday hunting. If it becomes law, hunters would be allowed to use firearms between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sundays – when churches are typically in session – as long as they don’t come within 500 yards of a church.
Hunters could also hunt migratory birds, such as ducks, on Sundays if the state’s appointed Wildlife Resources Commission approves the change and sets rules for the practice. The commission would conduct a formal study of the issue and report findings to the legislature.
It was unclear if the bill had support from the majority of the committee – the “nos” sounded louder than the “yeas” – but Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon announced that the bill had passed. No one called for a vote count, and Sen. Floyd McKissick joked that the vote used the “Rucho rule,” referring to questionable committee votes overseen in years past by then-Sen. Bob Rucho. Committee members laughed, and there were no objections.
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Sen. John Alexander, a Raleigh Republican who’s sponsoring the bill in the Senate, successfully proposed an amendment that makes clear that hunting isn’t allowed within 500 yards of a church at any time on Sundays. That ban would also apply to any church facilities built in the future. Those provisions were sought by the conservative Christian Action League, which opposes all Sunday hunting.
Alexander argued that expanded Sunday hunting is needed to encourage young people to take up the activity. “There’s too many kids who are not learning to hunt,” he said. “They’re getting involved in video games and all types of stuff.”
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican who opposes the bill, said it’s increasingly difficult for hunters to know when and what animals they can legally hunt.
“At its core, I oppose hunting on Sunday, and I don’t think it should be a policy of the state,” he said. “We’ve gotten more complicated than I think the average person can keep up with.”
Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican, also said he opposes expanded Sunday morning hunting. Tucker suggested current law isn’t too restrictive as it only bans hunting for a few hours. He joked, “You can get drunk at 10, go to church at 11 and sober up, and go back into the woods at noon with a gun.”