Keep Sundays Free from Hunting

bow hunter

Many folks view Sunday as a “day of rest” in one way or another–be it sleeping in late, not going into the office, watching football, going to church, or spending time with friends and family. Many also use this “rest” day to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of flora and fauna.

In most U.S. states, a fairly recent Sunday past-time is hunting. For many years, hunting was officially banned or severely restricted in most places. However, now, only seven states prohibit any form of hunting wild game on Sundays: Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Four states restrict Sunday hunting: Maryland allows hunting on two Sundays during deer season; South Carolina allows Sunday hunting on private land only; North Carolina allows Sunday hunting on some federal installations; West Virginia allows Sunday hunting on private land (currently in 14 counties).

The case for Sunday hunting

The number of hunters has been decreasing over the years, which makes many hunting enthusiasts and supporters more vocal in the push to increase access to hunting. In addition, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has taken on Sunday hunting bans as a cause celebre, positioning itself as a defender of hunters’ rights (since, of course, so many hunters use guns).

As a result, the remaining bans on Sunday hunting are depicted as a huge, terrible obstacle to the endurance of hunting. For example, the NRA-ILA lists as a “truth” of Sunday hunting that “The majority of hunters will agree that the biggest obstacle to hunting, and the biggest obstacle to recruiting new hunters, is lack of access and opportunity to hunt.”

At the same time, the revenues generated for state coffers by hunters are being held up as equally crucial reasons to remove all obstacles to hunting on Sundays. In Virginia, where the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries recently reversed course and supported lifting the ban, the NRA Hunters Rights website reported their justification that “hunting license sales and their associated federal matching funds are the largest single revenue source available to the Department for carrying out its mission, including acquisition of public lands and private easements for wildlife management, hunting access and conservation.”

One other important defense of Sunday hunting (listed as another “truth” by the NRA-ILA) is that there have been no measured impacts on wildlife populations in the 43 states that allow Sunday hunting. If the overall number of hunted wild game does not go down, supporters reason, then why bother protecting them from being hunted on Sunday?

Supporters are pushing hard to overturn existing bans and restrictions on Sunday hunting in states like Pennsylvania and Virginia. And they have serious lobbying power, thanks to the organizations that comprise the Sunday Hunting Coalition: the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Archery Trade Association, Boone and Crockett Club, Cabela’s, Delta Waterfowl, Mule Deer Foundation, National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, and the Wildlife Management Institute.

The case against Sunday hunting

The arguments for allowing Sunday hunting in the holdout states seem pretty reasonable on the surface. If we can keep hunting going, bring in more revenue, and not threaten wildlife populations, then why not head out to shoot at the critters on Sundays?

Unfortunately, these arguments leave me and many other outdoor recreationists, wildlife enthusiasts, and religious folks unconvinced.

family of deerFirst, the idea that lifting Sunday hunting bans will be the salvation of hunting is flawed. .Sunday hunting bans are in place in only seven states, plus four more with partial Sunday hunting bans. That means 39 states allow Sunday hunting…and yet hunting as a past-time continues to decline every year. Most states have departments with programs to support, encourage, and recruit hunters of all ages, too, while also setting regulations and rules for hunting. These are obviously combined with the programs and marketing by pro-hunting organizations, from the NRA to Ducks Unlimited. So how will adding one day of hunting in a few states turn the tide for dwindling hunters?

Second, hunters do indeed bring a lot of revenue to state’s coffers as part of their hunting forays.  But they are a very small proportion by number of all outdoor enthusiasts. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Recreation Top Line Report for 2010, in 2009 hunters were less than half as numerous as campers and several thousand smaller than hikers (26,000 vs. 52,000 and 32,000 respectively). If you add up all those non-hunting enthusiast numbers, the difference is staggering (roughly 6 to 1).

Granted, hunters may spend more than others, but that does not mean they should have more say about how natural areas are controlled, or who has access to natural resources.  They are a high-spending minority. The fact that they shoot live ammunition in the same areas where bikers, hikers, birders, and campers tend to be (and in higher numbers) is a big enough worry to that some outdoor enthusiasts avoid areas, or times, just in case.

The point about wildlife populations being stable despite Sunday hunting is interesting. Looked at on a purely quantitative level, sure, Sunday hunting may not be a “threat” to wildlife. However, consider the issue from the perspective of an individual animal–for example, the faun whose mother has been shot, the pheasant chick whose parents have been killed, or the buck who is suffering with a bow lodged in its leg. Though species may not be in danger, individual animals are, facing suffering and/or death on yet another day of the week. Why? To allow hunters to have their “right” to shoot and kill.

It is also ironic that a case for Sunday hunting, and hunting in general, often includes the need for culling excess animals to avoid threats of overpopulation. As if the animals are the problem…for “encroaching” in human-populated areas (which, of course, the animals inhabited first). But the degree to which this “service” of hunters is a priority is open to question. I remember reading recently in my local newspaper some letters from hunters complaining about not having ENOUGH deer to shoot in the area…and asking for farmers and other landowners not to shoot them. So while hunting does involve culling excess animals, citing it as a key reason for lifting Sunday hunting bans is unconvincing, since sport is surely more important to proponents of lifting the ban. And to say that deer are a nuisance because they step onto our turf is a travesty…the deer were here long before our cities, roads, houses, cars, and gardens.

“A day of rest for all species”

In my state of Virginia, one of the few states with bans still in place, the Sunday hunting ban has existed for over 200 years. And it has been in the lawbooks since 1903, as a “day of rest for all species” when it comes to facing the threat of death by a human hunter.

If you live in a state that still bans Sunday hunting, contact your legislators and tell them that you oppose allowing hunting to threaten wildlife and people. If you live in a state that has given in to Sunday-hunting proponents, also speak up and express opposition, or support protecting areas from use by hunters in the future.

Hunters currently have ample access, in terms of times and spaces, to engage in their sport. But since their past-time entails the (intentional and sometimes unintentional) death and suffering of other creatures, the other frequenters of outdoor areas should be respected as well, and allowed to have one day free from the threat of bullet or arrow.

Image credits: Michal DuriniÃ?Â?Ã?­k and Marcel Jancovic / Shutterstock.com

  1. Joe

    I assume the that your community at DR does not allow hunting- I have read Sand Hill Farm Blog about processing deer not sure about Red Earth Farms- have your communities discussed this or is it too hot and issue?

  2. Matt

    Hunting is the most sustainable method to obtain protein with the lowest impact on the environment. It is a much better alternative than turning to factory farming. You obviously do not want to see any hunting and your argument is disingenuous in that matter.

    The fact is being in the woods with hunters is very safe and the vast majority of the county has proven this. You are more likely to be injured driving to your favorite hiking spot or being struck by lighting than being injured by a hunter.

    1. Justin Van Kleeck

      Matt, I think it is pretty clear from this and every other post I have written that I am not in favor of hunting, so I am not sure how you are finding my post disingenuous. And yes, hunting is much much better than factory farming, but that does not make it or obtaining anything from animals inherently ethical…especially when it involves killing them (or trying to kill them and only injuring them). You also make the assumption that ALL forms of hunting that occur, and would occur on Sundays, is for obtaining food. That ignores the large proportion of hunting done entirely, or primarily, for sport; even when it does provide food, for most folks that food is only secondary to conventionally produced and purchased animal products…which, surprise surprise, is most likely coming from a factory farm.

      And the question about safety to human recreationists is not an unimportant one, but it is not something I address in my article or even raise as a major reason to oppose hunting. As is so often the case, that discussion ignores completely the animals who WILL be hurt or killed when humans go out to hunt.

      1. Matt

        Justin, Your comment about hunters using ‘live ammunition” around other outdoor enthusiasts (your word selection gives me a chuckle picturing someone hunting with spent ammunition or blanks – LOL) implies that it is unsafe. Sprinkled throughout your article you try and imply that hunting isn’t safe. It is a lie proferred by the ignorant and uninformed who say that hunting isn’t safe for others in the woods.

        Your article is disingenuous in that you argue against Sunday hunting, when in fact what you want is NO hunting. You personify animals in your argument, which also tells me you are in the far end of the spectrum of the average Virginian regarding consumption of meat and harvest of the best quality protein that exists.

        I would venture to say that you are pushing a HSUS or PETA driven agenda and are most likely a card carrying member of one, or both of those organizations.

        You and the point of your article loose credibility with me by not stating your true agenda. If the title of your article were “Keep Woods Free from Hunting” then your article would be genuine in my book and you wouldn’t be pretending to be against “Sunday hunting” only. As it stands, IMO, you have done a poor job of trying to lay out the issue.

        1. Justin Van Kleeck

          Matt, you keep claiming that I have some hidden agenda, and I am not sure why, because it is pretty obvious that I am not in favor of hunting or any other use of animals for that matter. Would you like me to put that in big, bold, blinking headline text, to make it less “disingenuous”? Whether or not hunting in spaces where people choose to recreate is less a question than what people perceive, and how they feel about the use of the land they frequent. Even if non-hunters are not scared of getting shot, they may not be comfortable with bullets flying in their vicinity. Yeah, the statistics may be low, but no one really wants to be that one to get shot.

          As to my personal stance on hunting…just because I am against hunting does not mean I cannot write about SUNDAY hunting, which is the form that is currently illegal in this state and is being discussed right now in terms of laws and policies. I have every right to weigh in on the discussion; I do not have to be neutral or pro-hunting to have a say, as does everyone else who cares one way or another. I may (or may NOT) be a minority in Virginia, but my perspective matters. As does yours. That is the whole point of having a discussion. And categorizing me, and speaking prejudicially about my possible organizational membership, is a pretty poor way to have a a serious discussion, rather than looking what I actually say.

    2. Mark

      Matt, I agree with you. How much more organic can we get than to walk out on our own land and kill a deer that is ‘home grown’ living off our own vegetation. Crops that we plant and harvest. Land that we pay for for and pay taxes on. Land that has been in my family since 1842. When was this law put on the books, 1903? Wow! That is a long time to be paying taxes on something that someone else can tell me what to do with it.

      It is time for Sunday hunting in Va. It is time for people to be free to hunt or rest, whatever they like. I choose hunting. I will not be in fear of shooting any campers or bikers, they are not allowed on my land. Its mine! Stay off my land, I am resting in the woods with a gun, waiting for food on my day OFF work.

      1. Justin Van Kleeck

        Unfortunately, Mark, I cannot agree with you. The land may be yours, but the deer (and other wildlife) are not. They are a public resource…and beyond that, are living creatures with their own lives and inherent values. This, for example, is why endangered species are protected from hunting, on public and private lands–because the animals are recognized to have inherent value. So yes, hunting on your day off on your land may be how you would choose to spend your Sunday…but that choice has an inescapable, harmful consequence on the wildlife you point your gun at. And they are not your property!

        1. mark

          True, they are not my property. I never claimed they were. I do say that the reason they are alive and well and not endangered is because of my property. They are part of my food chain, just as my land and my crops are part of theirs. They live on my land. They feed on my land. They raise young on my land. They do this 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I support them. I should be allowed to hunt them 7 days a week as well. They do not rest on Sunday. What I may harvest on Sunday is only what I cant harvest Monday thur Saturday. You said yourself earlier that Sunday hunting doesnt actually help cut down the population. The virginia department of fish and game gives out a certain number of tags to harvest deer with, no matter how many days a week you hunt. So that point makes no sense. I have not seen where you have made a good argument against it yet. Sunday hunting for all!!

          1. Justin Van Kleeck

            The “exchange” scenario you describe is pretty unequal. The deer mostly eat things that have no direct monetary or personal value you to you; you own the land those trees, bushes, grasses, etc. grow on, but you are not making money on them. (If the deer eat food crops, then yes, there is competition in some way there, but I doubt they are thriving entirely on that.) And yet you can shoot the DEER and eat them. That does not seem very equal/fair exchange to me. As far as population numbers go, again, the question is not whether or not they are endangered. They still have individual value as living beings, not just as food for you and other humans. Whether their numbers are high or low makes no difference for that.

          2. mark

            Justin, I had not space to reply to your last comment about the exchange scenario. The deer are eating so many of my crops that the law provides stamps for killing these animals to stop them from causing such a monetary loss. I mush prefer to hunt them during hunting season and let them be used as food for our bodies instead of decomposing in the field, simply because there are too many of them and they are eating my money.

          3. Justin Van Kleeck

            Thanks for the clarification Mark. It is a tough situation that you describe, and deer overpopulation has a lot of consequences. it is sad that a large part of the problem is the result of humans killing natural predators, and encroaching on wildlife habitat. But to bring this back to the present discussion, I still am not convinced that adding one more day for hunting is going to make a big impact on the deer population, on your land or off it (since they are not just squatting on your land). The numbers about impact of Sunday hunting on population back this up…Sunday hunting is probably not going to solve your deer problem (except maybe in making you feel better because you can shoot them when you see them). And are there really so many deer that vast numbers of them are dying (from starvation, I assume) and rotting in your fields?

            Also, remember that hunting is not restricted to private lands. Lifting the Sunday hunting ban would mean hunters would be shooting deer in places other than the ones they own, and so killing animals that may have no direct impact/harm on them, or anyone. Plus Sunday (and any day’s) hunting is not restricted to deer only, either, so many other species are impacted.

          4. Kirk @ River Mud

            If you don’t think that deer sustain themselves on cash crops grown on farms, then you absolutely have not spent a lot of time on farms. I’ve had hunting leases on several organic farms and CSA farms where I’m confident a large % of the members/customers are anti-hunting. And that’s fine, they don’t have to think about it, as long as the food keeps coming off of the farm.

          5. Justin Van Kleeck

            Kirk, a few comments in response to yours… Of course I am against all hunting, and so adding another day of it is something I oppose as well. The arguments most people make for it follow poor logic (the “let’s save hunting” argument and the “let’s fill state coffers!” argument). Another day of people shooting in the woods is another day of risk also for humans; it does not matter to the one human shot in a hunting accident, and his/her family, that overall numbers have not exploded when Sunday is added. It is another risk for non-hunters who are outdoors, period. Lastly, wildlife being disturbed by humans and their toys is not something I am particularly happy about, but there is a big difference between that and being shot and wounded or killed. That destroys individuals and families. The idea that hunting is the only check on deer populations is debatable at best, as are the arguments that all hunters are being altruistic in their hunting. Finally, I have spent years working with farmers and studying organic farming and gardening. Yes, deer do eat (I would need evidence to believe they “sustain themselves” on) crops, as do rodents and insects and other mammals and birds… If yours is the mentality that they all have to die, then I feel sorry for the paucity of your imagination and empathy.

  3. Rob

    Justin, as I read through your responses to Mark the issue is beginning to get muddied. The Sunday hunting issue is a directly tied to ending an antiquated blue law. This state has declared that hunting and fishing are rights protected by Virginia’s constitution; yet apparently my right to hunt is only good for six days a week. That makes no sense what-so-ever!

    Many of the opponents to Sunday hunting cling to the fallacy that the wildlife needs a day of rest. There is no such thing as a day of rest for a wild animal. Each and every day is a life and death survival situation. Prey species are constantly on guard for predators such as dogs, bears, coyotes, fox, bobcats, and the most deadly of all, the automobile. It makes no difference to a deer if a two-legged is wielding a weapon on Sunday or not, it only knows us as danger and will react appropriately.

    It’s obvious to me that you have a great reverence for nature and I applaud you for that. I too have been drawn to nature from a very early age and despite our difference in opinion on hunting; I suspect we could share some great stories of both of our observations. In my opinion, you’re viewing hunting in the narrowest of terms I personally hunt to become more closely connected with nature. It isn’t a sport to me; it’s very personal and spiritual. The food I obtain is merely the physical manifestation of my endeavors and it is sacred in my eyes. I give thanks to the animal whose life I have taken, both when I lay my hands on it and with every meal that I make with it. In my eyes, all living things are connected and a universal fact is that something must die for another to live. Native cultures realized this a very long time ago but modern man has removed himself from this. We know longer know where or how our food is obtained, we mindlessly drive to the market to buy our processed food without a seconds thought. Very sad.

    I’m going to leave you with a quote from Reg Darling’s book, “Coyote Soul, Raven Heart”.
    Animals do have rights. They have the right to live and die as animals, as wild animals if that’s what they are. They have the right to be seen with compassion and recognition by humans. They have the right to hunt, scavenge, harvest, and absorb sustenance from the Earth. They have a right to wildness in their hearts. I will grant the animal rights folk a good many of their basic assumptions and I will continue to hunt and eat. Being an animal myself, I too have those rights.

    1. Justin Van Kleeck

      Hi Rob, and thanks for your thoughtful response. I will reply with the following:
      – Hunting & fishing are protected as rights, but that in no way means they cannot be regulated. You have to get a license, for example, and there are specified seasons that limit that right.
      – I do not think anyone believes a Sunday hunting ban means deer, turkey, and other animals are sitting around drinking beer and watching football or sleeping in late. The “day of rest” is a rest from human hunters, most often with high-powered rifles or other technological aids. And the fact that they are on guard does not make it okay for us to hunt them…no more than locking your doors makes it okay for someone to try breaking into your house.
      – There are many, many ways to connect to one’s food and to nature as a whole. For me, the act of intentionally killing an animal I need not kill, or consuming an animal or animal product I need not consume, is a huge barrier to connecting deeply and peacefully with nature. Why? Because in nature I see that all beings want and try to live and to avoid suffering, just as I do. I cannot feel right actively working to counteract that striving to thrive…much less to end it. That said, I agree that we could probably swap some great stories from being out in the wild (or out in the garden).
      – Reg Darling is truly correct: In the bigger picture, he has every right to hunt and eat; I appreciate that native cultures incorporate reverence for nature into their traditions so intimately, though I cannot agree with every aspect of those traditions. Darling also has the right to choose, and he could choose otherwise. I think it is unethical to make the choice he does, as I have explained in this and other posts.

  4. Scott

    I accidentally came upon this site while looking to for the states that did not allow Sunday hunting. The arguments against Sunday hunting are weak, at best–probably why so few states ban it. Hunting is a right and limiting it to only one of the two days most hunters have to hunt is silly. I notice some left-wing new-age want-to-be hippy vegetarian/vegans want to ban all form of hunting and use of animals in any way. These people are ignorant of many facts and are just extreme in ther views which this blog will not change. Men have evolved as hunter-gatherers, we still need meat. Hunting provides that need as well as a recreational sport, and to a large degree, controls dangerous populations of animals in some areas. Question: What is the single most dangerous animal in the United States? It’s not bears, snakes, wild dogs, alligators or anything else. It’s Bambi! Deer are responsible for more deaths and injuries than ALL other animals combined. An over population of deer running in front of vehicles and causing crashes can be serious. Who can control this–hunters! So why the hell not let them hunt on Sunday?

  5. Kirk @ River Mud

    Nearly two and a half years after this article was written, nothing has happened. I should rephrase that statement. Two and a half years since this article was written, New Jersey has passed Sunday hunting, Maryland has vastly expanded Sunday hunting, Massachussetts and Connecticut have nearly passed Sunday hunting, and very winnable lawsuits are pending against the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia for their Sunday hunting ban, which elected officials call “faith based” (i.e. a violation of the 1st Amendment).

    So…what hasn’t happened? Anything bad. No increases in risks or threats to non-hunters. No near-extinctions of game animal populations. No “nightmare stories” of hunters acting badly on Sundays – now in 44 states, likely to be 47 states by time the 2015-2016 hunting season rolls around.

    You can be opposed to hunting, and that’s your right. You can be opposed to Sunday hunting because it’s simply “more hunting,” the way I’d hope you’d be opposed if your state game department proposed to lengthen hunting season by an additional month (I don’t truly hope you’d be opposed, but you know what I mean). But you can’t be opposed to Sunday because it’s “a day of rest” or because “the animals” (do you think target shooting, ATV and jetski riding, horse riding, etc on Sundays don’t disturb the animals’ rest?). You can’t be opposed to Sunday because it’s unsafe, because the reams of data collected across the country show that it’s simply….not.

    I respect your right to oppose hunting, notably if you’re a vegetarian (nothing more annoying than someone telling you that hunting is cruel while they eat a fastfood cheeseburger). But please do so in a way that follows logic and the truth. 🙂

  6. Ty

    I am opposed to the restriction on Sunday hunting. I enjoy the hunt, respect the animals, practice deer management on my property and obey the laws. I wish that I could be as eloquent, articulate and tolerant as Justin in his defense of his opposition to all hunting. I don’t agree at all with that point of view, but he does a great job cordially defending it. I love freedom of speech! Thanks for laying it out like that, Justin! You didn’t convert me but I respect you style!

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