Virginia-Pilot Reports on Delegate Keam's legislation
Two bills take aim at Sunday hunting banÂ RICHMOND
Enjoying a quiet Sunday? For more than a century, so have Virginia's wild animals.That tradition could end if legislation making the rounds in Richmond survives. Two bills, both submitted by lawmakers from Fairfax, aim to legalize hunting on Sundays.
The proposal comes up every couple of years and always causes a ruckus. Virginians take their hunting seriously - even amending the state's constitution in 2000 to guarantee "the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest game."Roughly 200,000 residents head out with a gun or bow every year to stalk deer, turkey, ducks, geese and the like.
But Sundays have offered sanctuary since at least 1903, declared by state code to be "a rest day for all species..." Except raccoons, which can be pursued in the wee hours, but that's another story.
Biologically, says Bob Duncan, executive director at the state's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, giving wildlife a once-a-week break doesn't make much difference.
The department won't take an official stance on Sunday hunting, but Duncan does say that 40 other states allow it, and their game populations are as strong as ours.
"Wild animals aren't on the same 9-to-5 that we are," Duncan said."They have to make a living every day. They need a lot of things, like habitat, and protection at certain times of year. But they don't need a day off."And, certainly," he added, "they don't all need the same day off."
Maybe not, says the opposition, but humans do.
Hikers, horseback riders, bird watchers and others say the ban allows them one day a week during hunting seasons when they can enjoy the woods in peace and safety.
Farmers look forward to Sundays as a time when they're less likely to have hunters trespassing on their land or leaving litter in fields that can damage combines and other equipment.
Besides, said Greg Hicks of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, "We're a God-fearing group. We don't believe in hunting on Sundays."
Del. Mark Keam, sponsor of the bill in the House, says he's a Christian, too, "but to say hunters should be in church instead of hunting... well, that argument is a little outdated."
Oddly enough, lifting the ban could benefit the very farmers who are against it.
Hungry deer do millions of dollars in crop damage every year.
An extra day of shooting might help thin the ranks of whitetails, estimated to be about 1 million animals across the state.
Hunters kill about 250,000 annually, but vehicle collisions with deer have been steadily increasing, especially east of Interstate 95.
As for waterfowl and other creatures, bag limits and season lengths could be tailored to suit their more-fragile numbers.
Sen. Chap Petersen, patron of the Senate's bill, says convenience for hunters plus the state's constitution inspired his legislation.
"We don't suspend our other constitutional rights one day a week," Petersen said. "Why do we suspend this one?"
Historically, even hunters have been split on the idea.
In a 1996 game department survey, roughly half were in favor of Sunday hunting and half were against it.
A repeat of the survey in 2006, however, showed the scale tipping, with 62 percent for it.
Those who don't favor it worry that Duncan would be wrong about the impact on wildlife, or they just don't want to see an old tradition disappear.
There's also the home front to consider.
As Duncan says: "A lot of the wives wouldn't be too happy about it."
Joanne Kimberlin, (804) 697-1561, email@example.com