Ten states still ban or partially ban hunting on Sundays. It is hard to keep track because the last remaining Sunday hunting “blue law” restrictions are falling like dominoes.
Virginia got the whole hog of Sunday hunting, without restrictions, in 2014. Delaware passed a law allowing deer hunting on five specific Sundays in 2016. West Virginia legalized Sunday hunting on private land in about three-fourths of its counties in 2016.
In 2015, the North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Act legalized Sunday gun hunting on private property for the first time since the 1860s. Bows and arrows were not mentioned in the original statute. When the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission adopted Sunday archery hunting by regulation a few years ago, the legislature allowed the regulation to stand.
Along comes North Carolina’s Outdoor Heritage Enhanced bill. Introduced on April 4, the bill aims to remove or reduce Sunday gun hunting restrictions that remain under the earlier law. The House version is HB 559 and the Senate version is SB 624.
Primary Senate sponsors are Sen. John Alexander of Wake County, Sen. Tom McInnis, whose district includes Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland and Stanly, and Sen. Danny Earl Britt Jr., of Columbus and Robeson counties. Sen. Jeff Tarte, of Mecklenburg County is a co-sponsor. Primary House sponsors are Rep. Chris Millis, of Onslow and Pender counties and John R. Bell IV, whose district includes Craven, Green, Lenoir and Wayne counties.
The Heritage Act allowed landowners and others with written permission to hunt private land with firearms on Sundays, but hunting migratory game birds remained prohibited. Under the bill, hunting all lands and waters and hunting migratory birds would be legal.
The 2015 law prohibited Sunday hunting in Wake and Mecklenburg counties due to populations of more than 700,000, which were considered too crowded. The bill would allow Sunday firearms hunting in those two counties.
The prohibition on hound-hunting deer on Sunday would continue. Hunting with a firearm within 500 yards of a church or a residence not owned by the landowner would remain prohibited between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 pm. However, it would be legal to hunt with a firearm beyond those distances all day.
The biggest fly in the ointment of the 2015 law was that no one could hunt migratory game birds on Sundays. Hunters who hunt waterfowl primarily on public waters would have lost compensatory days that the USFWS allows for states with blue laws prohibiting Sunday hunting and those waterfowl hunters did not want to lose the extra days. However, while compensatory days extended duck season by six days, only one is a Saturday, when most hunters hunt.
A problem is that USFWS compensatory days do not apply to other migratory game birds, such as woodcock, rail, snipe and dove. Therefore, hunters of those birds lose Sundays.
Millis is a hunter. However, he said his responsibilities as an employee, legislator and father prevent him from enjoying all of the state’s public trust resources. Therefore, he focuses on hunting waterfowl, turkey and rabbit.
“The OHA was a great step forward for sportsmen,” Millis said. “Since its passage, I have heard many first-hand accounts of dads and their children, grandfathers and grandchildren, heading into the woods after the activities of Sunday morning to enjoy an afternoon hunt. While the OHA provided this opportunity to many individuals, it left behind sportsmen who participate in migratory bird seasons. The figures regarding youth duck hunting are encouraging and are of particular focus when it comes to enhancing opportunity by way of OHE. While there are a number of potential factors why duck hunting youth are in decline, the same ability for youth hunters to have another weekend day that is not in conflict with their Monday-through-Friday educational demands to spend the morning in a duck blind is wonderful proposition.”
Millis said the same logic applies for sportsmen who enjoy dove season. He also said the Wildlife Resources Commission would be empowered to provide extended opportunities on public lands if it desires, which would also increase opportunities for families.
Ashton Godwin, legislative liaison for the Wildlife Resources Commission, said the commission supports OHE.
“The Wildlife Resources Commission sees this as a method to preserve and expand the heritage and tradition of hunting in North Carolina,” Godwin said. “A common theme I often hear from folks is the lack of time and opportunity to hunt. This legislation expands hunting opportunities for youth and adults whose weekday obligations limit them to a single day in the field. There is growing concern with the ability to increase and recruit new and youth hunters. Barriers and restrictions to opportunity should be limited to facilitate more first-time and youth participation in hunting and shooting sports.”
To read and track the progress of HB 559 and SB 624, “Outdoor Heritage Enhanced,” and to contact your legislators, visit www.ncga.state.nc.us.