Sunday hunting bans are one of the last remaining examples of the puritanical blue laws that were initially designed to encourage church attendance. At the time when these restrictions were first put in place, other activities that were illegal on a Sunday included opening a store for business, drinking alcoholic beverages, and tilling your fields. Today, most of the blue laws have been repealed; however, Sunday hunting restrictions of varying degrees remain in 10 states. Two states (ME and MA) either severely restrict or completely ban Sunday hunting. Maryland, for example, allows Sunday hunting in select counties, but restrictions remain for much of the state.
Immense progress was made in West Virginia and North Carolina in 2017, lifting many of the prior bans and restrictions on Sunday hunting. West Virginia passed SB 345 which allows for Sunday hunting on private land statewide. Before this legislation, hunting was only permitted on Sundays in select counties. In North Carolina, HB 640 (The Outdoor Heritage Act) was passed in 2015 and allowed hunters to use firearms throughout most of the day in most counties. In 2017, North Carolina further expanded Sunday hunting allowances including transferring regulatory authority for public lands Sunday hunting to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. In 2018, West Virginia repealed the prohibition against Sunday hunting on public lands. These are steps in the right direction for lifting the unnecessary and antiquated bans on Sunday hunting throughout the country.
Points of Interest
- In March 2014, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Virginia House Bill 1237 which amended the Code of Virginia relating to hunting wild animals and wild birds on private property and state waters on Sundays. The amendment broadly allows for hunting on Sundays with some exceptions, most relating to the proximity of a place of worship. Before the passage of this legislation, an economic analysis conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that providing a Sunday hunting option in Virginia would directly contribute an additional $296 million to the state’s economy and 3,927 new jobs would be created.
- In New York, Sunday hunting was opened in 1996 for three Sundays during the gun season. Five years later, however, the entire state allowed Sunday hunting throughout the year, with few exceptions.
- In Ohio, a three-year trial period for Sunday hunting was initiated in 1998, and then became permanent in 2002.
- Before 2003, Sunday hunting in Michigan was banned on private land in certain counties, but in 2003, all Sunday hunting closures were repealed.
- Those opposed to Sunday hunting have claimed that allowing Sunday hunting would harm game populations and pose safety issues; however, none of the states that recently allowed Sunday hunting have seen these claims substantiated.
- Sunday hunting is seen as a key component of providing the citizenry, particularly the youth, with more opportunities to engage in the sport, which will ultimately lead to more hunters in the years to come.
- A 2011 empirical study conducted by CSF staff found that if Sunday hunting restrictions were lessened in the six states that had the most severe restrictions at that time (CT, DE, ME, MA, PA, VA), an additional 117,500 hunters would likely be recruited or retained by 2016. This would have resulted in substantial increases in funding for the fish and wildlife agencies within these states.
- In 2015, Connecticut passed HB 6034 which allows for archery hunting for deer on Sundays, with some restrictions.
- In 2016, the Delaware Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus spearheaded the passage of HB 289 which permits deer hunting on both private and public lands (subject to approval of the appropriate regulatory body) on five Sundays during firearms seasons.
- Over the last few years, several bills, including many in 2017, were signed into law in Maryland which expanded opportunities to hunt both deer and turkey in specific counties.
- In 2018, the state of Delaware took things further bypassing S 198 which opened up hunting every Sunday throughout the state’s archery and deer season.
- In 2020, the Pennsylvania Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus spearheaded the passage of S 147 which was signed into law by Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair (at the time) Governor Tom Wolf. The law authorizes one day of deer hunting on Sundays during the archery season, one day of deer hunting during the firearm season, and one day left to the discretion of the Pennsylvania Game Commission for species and season determined by them, which through rulemaking was selected to be bear hunting during the bear firearms season.
- In 2021, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission approved rules opening Sunday hunting on 55 Game Lands.
- In 2022, Virginia Governor Youngkin signed Senate Bill 8 into law to allow Sunday hunting on public lands in the Commonwealth.
- In 2023, South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources amended their regulations to allow Sunday hunting on seven Wildlife Management Areas and two National Forests from October 15 to January 31.
Educational campaigns that highlight the economic, social, and ecological conservation funding benefits of Sunday hunting are a useful outreach tool and are likely to be successful in garnering further support for Sunday hunting. States should decide for themselves which approach will be most successful for their constituencies and local political climates. State policymakers are encouraged to work with their state wildlife agency and hunting conservation organizations to ensure laws are drafted with all pertinent factors considered (e.g., federal regulations for migratory birds). Repealing blue laws prohibiting hunting on Sundays will increase license sales, have a positive impact on the state’s economy, and will increase the private property rights of landowners.