Virginia hunters are participating in their first Sunday hunts for wild game in recent times. With Virginia fallen, North Carolina stands alone, surrounded by states that allow the general public to hunt with firearms on Sundays.
Opposition to the ban on Sunday hunting in Virginia was identical to that in North Carolina. Hound groups opposed Sunday hunting bills and helped shoot them down in similar committees of both legislatures.
However, when Matt O’Brien set up the Facebook page “Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting For All,” it was the coup de grace for the ban. Tracking his success is North Carolina hunter C.J. Flay Jr., who set up a similar Facebook page and group.
“I put up bill statuses and other obstacles and strategies to overcome them,” said O’Brien, 43, a retired Army Reservist from Zuni, Va. “A perfect storm of events finally got the bill onto the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates. Facebook drew people in and each person the page reached had 20 others they were talking to at their clubhouses.”
O’Brien said hunters showed up at gun shows and hunting stores. They handed out pamphlets and did everything they could to attract attention of legislators.
“The Speaker of the House was not involved,” he said. “We struggled because we could not get out of the stranglehold of five Republican delegates on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.”
Then the delegate heading the committee lost her seat. Opposition by other committee members quickly weakened.
The Facebook group’s movement caught the attention of national pro-Sunday hunting groups, including the National Shooting Sports Foundation and National Rifle Association, which helped supporters influence the Speaker of the House until the bill headed to the floor.
“The vote was a crushing victory, providing absolute clarity that it should have passed long ago,” O’Brien said.
Since opposition came from the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, Sunday hound hunting for deer and bear remained banned.
“The hound hunters are angry because they were not included,” he said. “We got horse people, hikers and bikers behind the bill by allowing hunting only on private property. We got church people on board by prohibiting hunting near churches.”
Virginia already had hound-chase and hunting-preserve seasons. North Carolina allowed archery Sunday hunting a few years ago and allows taking foxes with hounds.
In North Carolina, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows compensatory waterfowl hunting days, but not for other migratory game birds such as doves. While compensatory days lengthen waterfowl seasons, the number of hunting days is the same, but include only half the number of weekend days of those in states that allow Sunday hunting.
In North Carolina, military bases have the option of allowing Sunday gun hunting by military personnel and by those accompanied by military personnel.
Flay, who was in close contact with O’Brien throughout the Virginia effort, set up the Facebook page, Legalize North Carolina Sunday Hunting for All and the Facebook group, Legalize Sunday Gun Hunting in North Carolina for All (https://www.facebook.com/groups/NCSundayHunting/).
“I was president of Vernon Rod and Gun Club in New York,” Flay said. “The club was a member of the Oneida County Federation of Sportsmen, which was a member of the New York Conservation Council and I was the council’s big game committee’s Region 7 representative.
“We had Sunday hunting in the north of the state, but not in the south because of Farm Bureau opposition. We passed a regulation for a three-year test and it was so successful it passed into permanent law without any problems.”
That was in 1995. Then Flay moved to North Carolina.
“I moved to North Carolina in 2001 and, much to my chagrin, found there was no Sunday hunting. I am primarily a white-tailed deer and turkey hunter. I also hunt small game, waterfowl and predators. So I went back to New York and to South Carolina to hunt on Sundays.”
Flay worked with grassroots lobbying efforts, primarily through NCHuntAndFish.com, a computer message board with approximately 5,000 members. He also obtained a hunting lease in Virginia. However, the land was clear-cut, so he dropped the lease this year. He still has a hunting lease in North Carolina’s mountains, but cannot hunt there with a gun on Sundays.
“I worked hard for Sunday hunting in Virginia while I was hunting both states,” he said. “Matt gave me the guidance to get things going in North Carolina.”
That is why the Facebook pages are similar. Flay jump-started his page in February 2014. In 2013, the North Carolina legislature had trapped a bill that would have allowed Sunday hunting inside the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. The legislature could not consider it during 2014, because it was a budget session.
When Virginia overturned its Sunday hunting ban, the Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting for All Facebook page had about 6,000 members. The Legalize North Carolina Sunday Hunting For All Facebook page currently has about 2,600 members.