Public Statement on the Recently Filed Sunday Hunting Lawsuit
By Hunters United for Sunday Hunting
July 18, 2013
Today, Hunters United for Sunday Hunting formally announced its long-anticipated lawsuit to compel Pennsylvania to end one of its last unconstitutional “blue laws,” the general prohibition against hunting on Sunday. Forty-two other states allow Sunday hunting of big and small game.
“We are taking the last route available to hunters, the courts. Not because hunters enjoy litigation, but because they have exhausted their legislative and executive-branch possibilities over the past fifteen years,” said Kathy Davis, founding president of HUSH.
“All of us involved in the legal challenge strongly support the Pennsylvania Game Commission and its future success; PGC’s role in this suit is a simple, unfortunate formality,” Davis said.
Sunday hunting has been a persistent political issue for the past fifteen years, with hearings held in the Pennsylvania legislature, and legislation unsuccessfully submitted to expand hunting to Sunday. Success has been elusive as a couple special interest groups have opposed it on religious and other grounds. Proponents have long advocated that it is a simple matter of individual liberty and freedom.
“Hunting is a wholesome, safe, family-building Pennsylvania tradition that is losing ground to video games, loss of private hunting land, and limited recreational time. Sunday is 50% of the recreation time available to most Pennsylvania hunters, so allowing Sunday hunting dramatically increases the likelihood of recruiting more hunters and conservationists than we are losing through attrition,” Davis said.
Those opposed to Sunday hunting cite religion, fear of land being posted, and safety as factors that influence their opposition.
“I am talking to God on the side of a mountain or out in the woods hunting and fishing as much as when I am in a house of worship,” says Josh First, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“I am a person of strong religious faith and observance, a political activist who advocates for including Biblical values in public policy, and I see absolutely no conflict between Sunday hunting and religion, in fact, they are mutually supportive,” says First, a life-long hunter, trapper, and fisherman from Central Pennsylvania who enjoys Sunday hunting in New York.
“Hunting culture and hunters are the kind of people that people of faith naturally support. If you want more traditional values, then support hunting generally, and specifically Sunday hunting; it’s the biggest hunter recruitment tool available,” First says.
Hunter recruitment droppedsteadily since the 1980s, due to a number of factors, although it is now up slightly over the past few years as Pennsylvania has implemented new youth hunter programs. Limited time and opportunities to hunt are the biggest impacts on hunter retention and recruitment.
Proponents of Sunday hunting ask why they are allowed to target shoot all day on both private land and public land on Sundays, but are not allowed to hunt that day. Especially when they pay taxes on their own land, but are deprived the full use of their land on Sunday. For many, Sunday hunting is about private property rights being respected.
“Presently, you can shoot a thousand bullets at a target on Sunday, but you can’t shoot one shell at a grouse or one bullet at a groundhog on Sunday,” says Davis. “It doesn’t add up or make sense, it is inconsistent law,” she says.
Others point out that hunting is a positive use of firearms, and should be expanded. “Hunting is one of the safest activities a person can participate in, and it’s even safer among non-hunters. Not one person was killed in a hunting related shooting incident in the 2011-2012 season,” First said.
Full or expanded Sunday hunting is allowed in 42 other states, including New York, Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia.
“We believe the legal basis of our complaint is simple and straightforward: Hunting is core to the Second Amendment, all Pennsylvanians are entitled to equal protection under the law, and the present ban on Sunday hunting is an unconstitutional blue law,” says Peter Russo, the attorney representing HUSH.
HUSH is on Facebook and on the web at www.huntsunday.com. HUSH’s mailing address is PO Box 255, Lititz, PA 17543. Donations are most welcome.
Members of the press can reach Kathy Davis at (724) 263-9719, and Josh First at (717) 232-8335.
HUSH Sunday Hunting Lawsuit
1. Question: Won’t Sunday hunting lead to private lands being posted?
Answer: Penn State studied private land posting, and not much additional private land will be posted, because most of Pennsylvania’s private land is already posted. At the time of the study ten years ago, 75% of private land was already posted; however, 75% of all posted land allowed for some hunting opportunity. Those private landowners who want to permit public hunting, but not on Sunday, can and probably will post against Sunday hunting. On the other hand, Sunday hunting will open up about five million acres of public land and at least ten million acres of private land owned, used, or leased by hunters. So, by that measure, Sunday hunting will greatly expand hunting opportunities, not reduce them.
2. Question: Won’t Sunday hunting put too much pressure on the deer herd?
Answer: No, it won’t, because the Game Commission can reduce the number of antlerless tags issued in each Wildlife Management Unit. That allows the agency to fine tune the expected hunting pressure with the targeted harvest and herd and habitat health. PGC Executive Director Carl Roe responded to this sort of speculating,”Once given the authority to add the Sunday hunting opportunity, the agency will address the Sunday hunting possibilities. We monitor the effect of additional [hunting] opportunity on game populations and possible impacts. We have established harvest data and models to monitor any changes in [expected or actual] harvest.”
3. Question: What’s the big deal if people get out for an extra day of hunting when there’s nothing to see?
Answer: Although Sunday hunting should include big and small game, which creates lots of opportunities, the truth is that an unsuccessful day hunting is often better than a good day at work, and spending time afield with a friend, parents, or other family members is infinitely better than playing video games or watching TV. Time afield helps young hunters develop their woodcraft and hunting skills, successful or not.
4. Question: I am confused by your legal complaint. What does all that ‘praying’ and “legalese” language in your lawsuit mean?
Answer: It is true that some of that text is old-fashioned and not commonly used between ordinary people today. Please do not ask us to explain or defend how lawyers speak to one another. The bottom line is that we are asking for the Court to grant us certain outcomes, and naturally the lawyers have figured out a way to make that sound complicated and high-falutin’.
5. Question: When did Pennsylvania make hunting on Sunday illegal?
Answer: In 1873. Before that, Pennsylvanians made no distinction or separation between church and hunting, and our hunters were known for combining both activities together as part of their lifestyle. Outdoor church services in the forest cathedral were a major part of many Sunday hunting outings in the old days, as were large family hunts on Christmas Day.
6. Question: Won’t Sunday hunting take people out of church?
Answer: People who want to go to church on Sunday will still go. There are many rural churches, like the Jersey Mills Independent Baptist congregation in Lycoming County, that will see a full house for the first time in decades, because hunters will be staying over at their camps and attending Sunday services before heading out to hunt. We find that image of rural churches being full of plaid shirts and camo before hunting to be inspiring. The truth is that only a few Sundays will likely be effected, notably right around Thanksgiving, when many families are already together, and when hunting together would be especially meaningful.
7. Question: Shouldn’t people be in church on Sunday, and not out hunting?
Answer: Don’t you believe that Americans have the right to make their own choices about how they spend their time? Do you believe it is the role of government to tell or compel free citizens to attend church? What is that: Liberty, or government control? What about those American worshipers who attend services on Saturday, and not on Sunday? Advocating for Sunday hunting means that we are expanding the number of opportunities for families to be together. In this day and age, that is a significant step in the right direction. There is no conflict between hunting and attending Sunday church.
8. Question: Won’t adding one more day of hunting make hunting unsafe? I mean, won’t there be conflicts between hunters and other outdoor recreationists?
Answer: Most outdoor recreation occurs in the spring, summer, and early Fall, when few hunting seasons are in. Legalizing Sunday hunting means adding just a handful of additional days of hunters afield, when the fewest outdoor recreationists are out. Few conflicts happen under current hunting seasons, so even fewer should be expected with the addition of a few extra days of hunting. Additionally, private property owners can post their land against trespass and hunt it without fear of conflicting with other users, if those other users should not be there to begin with. Consider also that hunting is extremely safe for both its participants and for others. Hunting is much safer than high school sports, horseback riding, and even than biking and golf. The bottom line, of course, is that hunters are entitled to use their own private land as they see fit, so they should have first say over what other uses take place there, and Game Lands were purchased by hunters for hunters, so few conflicts should occur there, either.
9. Question: What does the Pennsylvania Game Commission say about Sunday hunting?
Answer: In 2011, in testimony before the Pennsylvania legislature, PGC executive director Carl Roe said “There’s no doubt in our mind that including Sunday hunting will certainly have a positive impact on the hunting industry.” In talking about the slight increase in hunter recruitment and retention at that time, he also said, “With additional opportunity one could certainly draw the conclusion, particularly for those youth, that those [recruitment] numbers could even go up even higher in the future.” As Pennsylvania’s regulatory agency on hunting, the Game Commission should regulate Sunday hunting, among all other aspects of hunting.
10. Question: Isn’t this issue all about deer, really?
Answer: No. Deer management is a separate issue, managed by scientists and an agency board sensitive to hunter and landowner needs. We are confident that an agency capable of turning Pennsylvania into the trophy hunting destination it is now will also be able to handle an additional week or so of hunting pressure in its overall wildlife management process. The Game Commission may decide to only allow groundhog hunting on Sundays, a great way to introduce and improve more youth hunters. That has no impact on deer season. On the other hand, for hunters in the southeastern region, where overabundant deer herds are nearly impossible to control, Sunday hunting could have a major positive effect, so perhaps the agency might only allow Sunday deer hunting in that area. What is important is to allow the sole regulatory agency the ability to incorporate Sunday hunting as a management tool as its experts believe necessary. Note that no animal has gone extinct from scientifically managed hunting, and states that have Sunday hunting, like New York, demonstrate that none of the predicted doom-and-gloom problems actually result from it.
11. Question: What are the challenges, and how can we make a difference?
Answer: It is difficult for the common person to challenge legislative laws due to the extreme cost of such Constitutional challenges. Estimates of the potential cost have ranged between $40,000 and $50,000. However, with a combined effort of both Pennsylvania hunters and hunters across the United States, hunters can and will make the difference in this case.
To further this cause, we are asking hunters to take ownership of this challenge. HUSH will provide the avenue for hunters to challenge and change the Pennsylvania laws that ban Sunday hunting. By donating what you can, say $10, $20, $50, or a $100; and then getting the word out to every one of your friends who supports this effort; hunters can share the cost and communication burden. It is hunters like you who will make the difference, not only for yourselves, but for your children, your grandchildren, and for the future of hunting traditions in Pennsylvania. You can donate easily at www.huntsunday.comand clicking on the donate tab.
12. Question: I am able to teach my family members to hunt without Sunday, so why do you need it?
Answer: Your schedule may allow you to do that, and we applaud you for passing the torch to the next generation. Very few hunters have that capability, due to work, school, sports, and family schedules. Consider that (in 2009) 32% of Pennsylvania children are growing up in single-parent households. In these homes, the majority of the custodial parents are single mothers or fathers, and they have but one or two Saturdays per month to take their kids hunting, provided that their son or daughter isn’t already involved in an extracurricular activity on that Saturday. Sunday hunting can offer a 100% increase in hunting opportunity for these families. Nothing else will increase hunter opportunities, participation, or recruitment rates. Few other policy changes will help rural economies as much, by the way.
13. Question: Does Sunday hunting have a potential impact on the Pennsylvania Game Commission?
Answer: Yes. Sunday hunting can have a very positive impact on the budget of the PGC. Because opportunity and time afield are so necessary for recruiting new hunters, by making up for the loss of hunters through death and infirmity, license fee revenues will be maintained or increased. PGC’s budget is largely underwritten by license fees.
14. Question: Pennsylvania is one of the very few states that does not have expanded or full Sunday hunting, which makes it unique. What compelling cultural reason can you give to support the change to Sunday hunting?
Answer: First, the United States’ Declaration of Independence was drafted and read in Pennsylvania, because Pennsylvanians have always been a liberty-loving people. The Pennsylvania State Motto is “Virtue, Liberty, and Independence.” Virtue means goodness, liberty means freedom, and independence means to be able to survive on your own without the control of a big over-reaching government. These values are core to the identity of Pennsylvanians. It is quintessentially Pennsylvanian to end the unfair restriction of liberty and independence of hunters and private landowners.
Second, consider that the William Penn Charter of 1683 said that Pennsylvania citizens shall have the right to hunt on their own land. Similarly, the subsequent Pennsylvania Bill of Rights named hunting as a right under Section 43: “The inhabitants of this state shall have liberty to fowl and hunt in seasonable times on the lands they hold, and on all other lands therein not inclosed; and in like manner to fish in all boatable waters, and others not private property…” Thus, we see that the individual freedom to hunt on private land was a basic right of all Pennsylvanians from the beginning of the colony and then state.
Finally, consider that US Supreme Court decisions have held that hunting is core to Second Amendment rights. Few hunters believe that the Second Amendment is a heavily restrictive right; rather, most believe it is a fundamental freedom. How much more so should hunting on private property be a fundamental freedom!
15. Question: Why can’t we give wildlife a day of rest?
Answer: Although giving wildlife a “day of rest” has no biological reason, if someone wants to do it, then make it Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, just not on Sunday, which is one of only one or two days a week that most people have to hunt.