Sunday hunting bill clears House

Posted: January 31, 2014

The Winchester Star

RICHMOND — The state’s last remaining blue law may be replaced with camo.

The House of Delegates this week passed a bill that would allow hunting on Sundays on private property. The Senate has an identical bill.

The House passed its version Tuesday on a 71-27 vote.

The House version was sponsored by Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, the deputy majority leader, who said 45 other states permit Sunday hunting.

It would allow wild birds or animals — subject to Department of Game and Inland Fisheries restrictions — as well as “nuisance species” to be hunted if the hunter or his immediate family owns the land, or has written permission from the owner of the land. All hunting must be more than 200 yards away from a house of worship, and the bill doesn’t allow deer hunting using dogs.

Local delegates Mark Berg, Dave LaRock and Randy Minchew, all Republicans, voted for the proposed bill, which has been sent to the Senate but has not yet been heard.

The Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, however, passed an identical bill Thursday on a 9-4 vote. The Senate bill is sponsored by Democratic Sen. Phillip Puckett, 38th District.

“There’s a pretty broad coalition that is behind the big push this year, and they approached me about carrying the bill,” Gilbert said Thursday morning. “It’s everybody from shooting sports enthusiasts, to retailers, to conservationists.

“In today’s society, especially given the current economic climate, hard-working people have very little opportunity to engage in a pastime that they love, that puts food on the table.”

LaRock, of Hamilton, called Tuesday’s vote a “difficult” one.

“Even some Republicans, particularly in more rural counties I think, wanted to hang on to that [ban],” he said. “I certainly listened to the people in the [33rd] District and found that there are a lot of mixed feelings that made it a difficult vote for me as well. It’s a property rights issue.”

It’s also an opportunity to improve the Virginia economy, he said.

“I think [the economic boost] is really more tourism-related,” said LaRock, whose district includes portions of Frederick, Clarke and Loudoun counties.

Hunters would be able to use area hotels and restaurants more if Sunday hunting is allowed, LaRock said.

Berg, who represents the 29th District — which includes Winchester and parts of Frederick and Warren counties — also cited property rights in his decision-making process.

“There were a lot of issues on both sides, a lot of arguments, but the strongest argument I felt was the property rights issue,” Berg said.

The Virginia Farm Bureau is opposed to the bill.

“The board here in Clarke County, we’re all in agreement with the state Farm Bureau policy, which is we oppose that [bill],” Clarke County Farm Bureau President Clay Brumback said. “A lot of landowners or people that have property enjoy knowing that there’s going to be at least one day during hunting season where they don’t have to worry about hunters ... although most are very safe.”

He said many people also hold to “old-fashioned” beliefs and think Sunday should be a day of rest.

Gilbert doesn’t buy the opponents’ arguments.

“Our general rifle season where you can shoot a deer is only two weeks long in my district [15th], and that means hard-working people have two Saturdays, unless they want to take Thanksgiving day away from their families to hunt,” he said. “Some people, for very good reason, view Sunday as the Lord’s day, and a day of rest. For others, it’s the only opportunity they may have to do this. This is an issue where faith and freedom intersect.

“Right now, you can go out on a Sunday and shoot 1,000 rounds at a stationary target, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a private property issue at the end of the day.”

Other blue laws that formerly restricted activities on Sundays, such as the sale of alcohol, have gone by the wayside, said Meade Spotts, a Richmond attorney representing the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is a member of the Virginia Sunday Hunting Coalition.

He said the number of hunters in the state has declined more than 50 percent since the 1970s.

“We’re now down to just around 200,000 hunters left in the state,” Spotts said. “Each member of the coalition supports it for slightly different reasons. Today’s society is so hectic. The laws today currently punish hunters by not letting them hunt on Sunday.”

People can fish, go out to eat, even visit a strip club on Sunday, he pointed out.

“It’s the last blue law left on the books,” Spotts said. “It’s sort of odd that hunters of all people are singled out. This will just give parents who want their children to continue the sport a chance to do it.”

Plus, it would still leave 316 days a year when hunting’s not allowed, he said.

One area hunter hopes the General Assembly sees the issue the way he does.

“I think the bill would be very wonderful to help kill off the deer so people won’t hit them,” said Kenneth Corbett, a member of Winchester Hunting Club.

He also cited people having to work long hours.

“A lot of people’s got two jobs and they can’t afford to take a day off,” Corbett said. “Plus, a lot of people’s not hunting anymore. Hopefully, by hunting on Sunday, it will bring more people in.”

Spotts said both houses won’t have voted on the same version of the bill until mid-February, when each house’s bills “cross over.”

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, said she supports the bill, but doesn’t know when the Senate will vote on it.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com