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OPINION
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Bill Ending Sunday Hunting Ban on Public Lands Heads to Governor Youngkin’s Desk

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Brian Gehring /The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File

Virginia is officially for lovers of Sunday public land hunting. 

Last week, the Republican-led House of Delegates voted 69-28 in support of Senate Bill 8 to end remaining blue law prohibitions on Sunday public land hunting. It passed 29-11 in the Democrat-controlled State Senate just before. Now the bill heads to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

This is true bipartisanship in action. Senator Chap Petersen, Virginia’s Joe Manchin, was the bill’s chief sponsor

“We’ve had Sunday hunting for the last eight years and I think it’s fair to say that civilization hasn’t come to an end,” said Senator Petersen. “This is just an access issue. I know that some people don’t like Sunday hunting. I understand that. I’m not going to try to change their views but I do believe that for those people who believe in outdoor recreation and you only get two days on a weekend and this is one of them.

The road to Sunday hunting here in the Commonwealth wasn’t an easy one. As Virginia Mercury reporter Sarah Vogelsong noted

The earliest versions of Virginia’s ban on Sunday hunting can be traced back to 1643. Over the years, the law became increasingly unpopular as other states scrapped their Sunday hunting prohibitions; today, only a handful of East Coast states continue to restrict the activity.  

Nevertheless, Virginia’s restrictions hung on intact until 2014, when the General Assembly agreed to allow Sunday hunting on private lands. 

Many hunters remained unsatisfied with that compromise, arguing that the continued ban on Sunday hunting on public lands disadvantages less wealthy hunters who lack access to private grounds and that the prohibition is a relic of days when lawmakers sought to protect the Christian Sabbath through wide-ranging “blue laws.”

Peterson’s bill will allow Sunday hunting opportunities on public lands that aren’t within 200 yards of “a place of worship or any accessory structure.” 

Despite this limitation, his bill is more far-reaching than Republican House of Delegate member James Edmunds’ proposed bill was. 

There are currently 3.7 million acres of public land available for the public in Virginia. SB 8 will open up existing hunting public lands in the Commonwealth, extending to Sundays, totaling “1.6 million acres of national forest lands and 70,000 acres of state forests.”

“This doesn't open up any lands that aren't currently open to hunting,” said Cyrus Baird, Delta Waterfowl senior director of governmental affairs. “We would get a lot of feedback from legislators, particularly in Northern Virginia and in [the] kind of more urban settings that they were hearing from their constituents. They were concerned that this would open up, you know, whatever local park that they like to walk their dog guide or they would open up, you know, the Shenandoah National Park and stuff like that. And it won't do that.” 

“It's only giving access on that seven day to places that already have established, you know, hunting seasons when major hunting seasons are open,” Baird added. 

National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reports Sunday hunting employs over 3,000 Virginians, with wages totaling $105.2 million and output totaling $296 million. 

In 2014, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a bill permitting Sunday hunting on Virginia’s private lands that was signed into law by then-Governor Terry McAuliffe. (Arguably the only good thing he did as Governor.)

Opposition to SB 8 waned compared to previous years, while support from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources boosted the bill’s prospects.

“I think it built on the last two years. And we really showed a unified front from the hunting community, which I think was helpful saying this is a top priority for all of our organizations, not just a couple of people,” remarked John Culclasure, Southeastern States Assistant Director at Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, on the District of Conservation podcast. “And also significant was the Division of Wildlife Resources adopted a resolution last fall expressing their support for Sunday hunting. While the agency can’t take position without the legislature [and] without the governor taking the role position, we could point to that resolution from the board saying, ‘Hey, we’re supportive’ and they’re obviously the managers of wildlife and hunters in Virginia.’” 

He continued, “It was also really significant that the Virginia Agribusiness Council and the Farm Bureau were neutral this year, which is different from the previous two years.” 

There are remaining Sunday hunting prohibitions in place in states like South Carolina and much of the Northeast. And it’s no surprise these outstanding prohibitions largely exist in Democrat-led states.

Let’s hope Governor Youngkin promptly signs this excellent bill into law. 

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