By Ad Crable
The Associated Press
LANCASTER - Two emotional issues that could profoundly change the face of hunting in Pennsylvania - hunting on Sundays and a ban on live bird shoots - are moving through the Legislature.
Neither issue is new. But what is new is that both have garnered decidedly more support this year and could actually get to a decisive vote in the General Assembly after years of being stranded in committees.
The prohibition against hunting on Sundays is one of the last "blue laws" still standing in Pennsylvania. The state is one of only 11 states that restricts or outright bans hunting on Sundays. But for years, any talk to extend hunting to the Sabbath has been quickly drowned out by state farming groups who say farmers are adamant that they want peace and quiet on Sundays.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says that sentiment is widespread. And they usually follow it up by noting that farmers will post their land against all hunting if Sunday hunting becomes the law of the land.
But that across-the-board threat is now being questioned as hunters become convinced that Sunday hunting could be a boost to recruiting newbies to a sport whose ranks are diminishing. A chance to hunt two days over a weekend just might prompt hunters to head to the mountains to hunt camps again, providing a boost to local economies.
Besides, some say, farmers who don't want hunters on their land on Sundays can simply post signs saying so. Live and let live. Hunters would respect that.
While recognizing that the willingness of farmers provides the lion's share of hunting turf - farmers and other private landowners account for about 80 percent - some point out that farmers need hunters as much as hunters need them. Hunters, the argument goes, provide a valuable service to their farmer friends by controlling deer and protecting crops.
This changing tide may be reflected in the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, a group claiming membership of 73,000 sportsmen and women in the state.
"There was a time when even the mention of Sunday hunting was strongly opposed by a vast majority of PFSC members," Ben Koncewicz told the House Game and Fisheries Committee at a public hearing on Sunday hunting June 9 at Seven Springs Resort. "However, recently that opposition has been softening, and as an organization, the PFSC's direction has moved from being divided down the middle to now being slightly on the supportive side."
What PFSC now supports is for the Legislature to give the authority to govern Sunday hunting to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which is more equipped to apply game-management principles to what species should be hunted, bag limits and on what days.
"Legislators don't have training in wildlife management and resources," says Lowell Graybill, PFSC's second vice president and an Elizabethtown resident. "We would oppose any bill just mandating Sunday hunting."
"The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau does not represent all the farms in Pennsylvania," challenges Stephen Mohr, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. "I know other hunters who are farmers and that [Sunday] would be the only day they would get to go hunting."
Mohr thinks a two-day weekend hunting season would benefit the northern tier counties the most with a sorely needed economic shot in the arm. Like the PFSC, Mohr thinks the legislature should simply repeal the blue law against Sunday hunting and let the Game Commission sort out the details.
"Once it's set and once it's established, I don't think you will hear anything about it," predicts Mohr.
But state Rep. Bryan Cutler of Peach Bottom, a member of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, for one, will not vote to allow Sunday hunting.
"This is one of those tough, tough issues as a legislator," he says. "As a hunter, I would love to hunt the first Sunday after turkey season."
But he says he intends to vote the mood of his constituents, who when surveyed on the issue recently by the legislator voted 113 to 37 against allowing Sunday hunting. A sizable number of votes came from local farmers, he said, who want Sundays to remain "their day of rest away from farm work and want to enjoy their time and would post their property."