North Carolina legislators in the Senate are poised to vote on a bill that would, among other things, legalize gun hunting on private lands on Sundays. House Bill 640, known as the Outdoor Heritage Act, passed the House this week with a vote of 83-35. The bill would also establish a trust fund dedicated to funding outdoor-related activities for those under 16. The bill also includes a "three strikes" rule that would suspend the license of any hunter convicted of three hunting-related violations.
It's not a perfect bill, admits Sunday hunting advocate CJ Flay, but it's a great start. Some types of hunting are excluded from the bill. Waterfowl hunting would not be allowed on Sundays. Despite that stipulation, the bill has the backing of Delta Waterfowl, a wetlands conservation and hunting advocacy group. Flay says duck hunters were purposefully omitted from Sunday hunting because the bill as written only allows hunting on private land.
"We have a lot of public water in North Carolina and since the US Fish and Wildlife Service allocates a 60-day season, a lot of hunters would lose opportunity because they would not be allowed to hunt on Sundays," says Flay, a school teacher from Ronda, North Carolina. "Representatives of Delta Waterfowl want to introduce a separate bill specifically addressing waterfowl in the future if H640 passes."
Hunting with all types of dogs would also be prohibited. That was at the request of the state deer hound lobby, which has been and remains staunchly opposed to any additional opportunities for Sunday hunting. Ironically, says Flay, hunters can train their deer dogs on Sundays, but they can't actually shoot a deer.
"From what I've read, running deer with dogs falls under the state's definition of hunting, so I find it hypocritical the hound lobby is opposed to Sunday hunting for the rest of us," he adds.
A number of other groups have opposed any effort to overturn the current ban, including horseback riders and religious organizations, which suggest that Sunday should be a day of rest. The bill would prohibit hunting within 300 yards of a church on Sundays.
"We can do everything else on Sunday. Why is hunting any different?" wonders Flay.
The North Carolina Farm Bureau also supports efforts to overturn the Sunday hunting ban. Farm bureaus in other states, Virginia and Pennsylvania, for example, have been outspoken in their opposition to Sunday hunting and have been in part responsible for delaying or killing legislation legalizing it.
Even with vocal opposition from some groups, H640 passed in the state House of Representatives this week. The strong support is due in part to a resolution adopted by the Wildlife Resources Commission that supports lifting the archaic ban. Various national groups like the NRA and the United States Sportsmen's Alliance have also been working behind the scenes to push through the bill, as well. Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops have also stated their support, so have dozens of other state and national organizations.
The legislation that will now move to the Senate still does not allow Sunday hunting in Wake and Mecklenburg, and bans hunting from within 500 yards of a church and nearby homes.
Similar legislation was signed into law in Virginia last year, allowing Sunday hunting on private land for the first time in modern history. None of the dire predictions suggested by horseback riders, the deer hound lobby or the farm bureau came true.
Currently, 11 states have total or partial bans on Sunday hunting. North Carolina legalized bow hunting on Sundays in 2010.
"If you live or hunt in North Carolina, call your local representative and urge them to vote in favor of H640," says Flay, administrator of a Facebook page called Legalize North Carolina Sunday Hunting For All.