Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

The Free Lance-Star weighs in on Delegate Keam's legislation


http://www.fredericksburg.com/News/FLS/2011/012011/01272011/603300

Arguments against Sunday hunting continue to fall flat

January 27, 2011 12:35 am

JUNGLE DRUMS are beating out "action alerts" and calls to arms related to proposed Virginia General Assembly legislation that would overturn the ban on Sunday hunting.Last week, we reported formation of a new multi-organization coalition comprised of leading conservation, sportsmen's and hunting organizations seeking to remove bans and restrictions existing in several Eastern seaboard states, remnants of Colonial-style blue laws.

State Sen. Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax, introduced Senate Bill 850, which strikes language banning Sunday hunting from the current statute. Peterson's bill will be heard Monday at 9 a.m. in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee (Senate Room B) in Richmond.

House of Delegates member Mark L. Keam, D-Vienna, has introduced a companion bill, House Bill 2442.

Keam also drafted HB 2443, which would allow people in the Northern Virginia Planning District to hunt deer with bow and arrow or crossbow on Sundays on private land.

The Sunday hunting coalition, which includes the National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Rifle Association and a dozen other organizations, encourages its state chapter organizations, affiliates and all hunters to attend the hearing. A Facebook group, Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting, formed during last year's General Assembly session, now has more than 1,700 members.

Behind the scenes, lobbyists pound home messages. Blog and forum websites detail unsurprising opposition from the Humane Society of the United States (one of the world's most avowed anti-hunting outfits).

An HSUS appeal to birdwatchers beseeches them to preserve one day a week to enjoy nature in peace, as well as announces efforts to form the Coalition to Preserve Safe Sunday Recreation. It appears some horseback riding and bicycling groups also oppose Sunday hunting.

Yes, it's all about safety--and a day of rest for the animals. But anyone driving on a no-shoulder country road knows that swerving for brightly dressed cyclists presents traffic hazards more dangerous than any hunter in the woods.

A DAY OF REST?

The Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance outlines opposition mainly on religious grounds, while simultaneously supporting legislative changes to allow training bear hounds at night, even on Sunday! No rest for the bears, it appears?

Many hunters who support Sunday hunting would prefer it be allowed without the presence of hounds. This is evidenced by data collected in "Hunting With Hounds-A Way Forward," a study that actually went nowhere a couple years ago.

The Farm Bureau apparently opposes Sunday hunting, even though demands soar for out-of-season deer kill permits because of crop damage. Heck, now even elk and geese are being proposed for kill-permit status. Yet try to get permission to hunt geese on many of the very farms where the clamor will crescendo for spring and summer killing.

During a press conference in Las Vegas last week, the Sunday hunting coalition addressed arguments farm bureaus make to restrict weekend access. Speakers basically pointed out that there isn't any problem in the 39 states that now allow unfettered Sunday hunting access. After all, evening news isn't rife with reports of farmers being shot off tractors.

Key is that farms are private property. Property owners can always restrict access, whether that is no hunting on Sunday and Tuesday or hunting only on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

That fact had me scratching my head about Gov. Bob McDonnell's support for Sunday hunting, but on private land only. His deputy press secretary, Taylor Thornley, affirmed that this is still his position.

Millions of acres of public land in Virginia belong to the federal government, including national forests and military installations. Why should the state restrict access to them for hunting?

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' Wildlife Management Areas comprise some 200,000 acres of land bought almost entirely with money from hunting, fishing and trapping license fees and Wildlife Restoration Funds from federal excise taxes on gear used for hunting and fishing. Even federal wildlife refuges are bought with revenues from the sale of hunters' federal duck stamps.

Birdwatchers, horse clubs and such don't pay a plugged nickel. Hunters get it stuck to them continually, with increasing fees, new licenses, access charges and more. Why do I pay more than $100 for multiple resident hunting licenses, but $18 to fish?

Private land is dwindling in Virginia. Why can't hunters hunt on Sunday on land they bought? It doesn't make sense. Managed hunts in parks and other public state properties could still be maintained and restricted.

HUNTING, THE LAST 'EVIL'

Clearly, someone believes hunting is "evil" and merits singling out for special treatment. What else is outlawed on Sunday, except state liquor store sales, which are targeted for privatization?

The safety argument is documented hogwash across 39 other states. And, if it's all about religion, then ban football games, fishing, shopping, skeet shooting, dancing and other temptations.

Sunday hunting means thousands of jobs and billions of dollars nationally. Proponents rightly point to competing pressures on kids, with many activities jammed into Saturdays. Why force families to choose between soccer and deer hunting? Why force the average working person, with limited vacation days, to travel long distances to hunt solely on a Saturday or burn vacation time to make it a hunting trip worthwhile?

Sunday hunting hasn't been a pressing personal issue for me in recent years, but I structured my life to enable that opportunity. Others aren't so fortunate. For them, and for a state that passed a constitutional provision protecting the right to hunt and fish, the current ban seems flat wrong.

My guess as to what would probably happen is hunting pressure would level out, with increased activity on weekends and fewer trips on weekdays. The state's game biologists can always adjust seasons and bag limits in order to soundly manage the resources. License sales would surely increase and more children would get to spend time afield with family and friends.

It is time for a change. It probably won't happen, but it is time.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e-mail at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

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