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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Religious Issues in Sunday Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., January 7, 2006.)
Is keeping the Sabbath motivated by spiritual legalism?
Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for man, not man
for the Sabbath. Is God honored when we keep the Sabbath
because we want to, or because we must?
Sunday hunting is illegal in Pennsylvania -- with a few exceptions -- but its legalization is inevitable. As hunters have less time to hunt, as they continue to see fewer deer, and as access to land becomes more difficult, Sunday hunting will become a hotter and hotter issue until Pennsylvania joins about 40 other states in legalizing it.

Opposition to Sunday hunting is rooted in "blue laws," statutes intended to enforce keeping of the Sabbath. These laws originated in the 17th-century theocratic New Haven colony. They were called "blue laws" because of the blue paper on which they were printed. Blue laws forbade the Sunday sale of cigarettes, all unnecessary work on Sunday, and any activity that intruded on Sabbath keeping.

Pennsylvania, named for its Quaker founder William Penn, once had a strong religious culture, and its ban against Sunday hunting existed long before it was seriously enforced in the late 1800's.

Landowners were complaining that working people (many were new immigrants), whose only opportunity to hunt was on Sunday, were shooting up everything from game animals to songbirds in order to feed their impoverished families. The state legislature put a stop to that by reviving the blue law as a game law, partly to protect wildlife and partly under pressure from landowners.

Today landowners are still one of the main voices against Sunday hunting. Farmers have the biggest organized voice and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau lobbies against Sunday hunting. Many have said that if Sunday hunting is legalized, they will close their land to public hunting. In other states, most who have said that have not done it.

I want to look at religious issues in Sunday hunting, but first let's look at some other issues. Are there biological reasons to prohibit Sunday hunting? Probably not. In the 40 states that allow it, Sunday hunting has not adversely affected wildlife populations.

Are there social reasons? Some groups claim that Sunday is the only day non-hunters can observe, photograph, and enjoy nature without worrying about guns being fired around them, but they are unconvincing. The reality is that non-hunters have plenty of opportunity outside of hunting seasons to venture into the woods.

Are there economic reasons? Opponents of Sunday hunting say that Wildlife Conservation Officers will be forced to work more overtime, which will have a negative impact on Game Commission budgets. But poachers don't take Sundays off, so WCO's already have the same responsibility to enforce game laws on Sunday as they do the other 6 days.

What about religious reasons? Pennsylvania no longer has a religious culture common to all, so it is difficult to make the case against Sunday hunting on consistent religious grounds.

Laws do not prohibit other activities. Even fishing has been legal in Pennsylvania for over 50 years, so it isn't consistent to permit one outdoor activity while banning another. Are we keeping the Sabbath when we fish, but not when we hunt on Sunday? What about golf? Shopping? Movies? Skiing? Football? Some hunters fear that a ban on Sunday hunting sends a message that hunting is less honorable than other forms of recreation, a view that can play into the hands of animal rights activists.

Among Christians, whether an activity is religiously acceptable on Sunday has additional considerations: (1.) Does keeping the Sabbath mean a perfunctory hour in a church pew before heading out for recreational pursuits? Is that all it takes to honor God? He set the example himself by resting from the labor of creation, and commanded us to likewise observe a day of rest, not an hour of half-hearted worship.

(2.) Do we worship the Creator, or merely his creation? We don't think much about idolatry in our society, but we have countless objects of worship today. Many hunters worship hunting.

(3.) Is keeping the Sabbath motivated by spiritual legalism? Jesus said that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Is God honored when we keep the Sabbath because we want to, or because we must? Does the law really have anything to do with keeping or breaking the Sabbath?

Limited Sunday hunting for foxes, coyotes, crows, and a few other animals is already legal in Pennsylvania. Why not all game animals? Perhaps a further compromise will be struck. For example, legislation could permit Sunday hunting on public land only.

About a million hunting licenses are sold and about a half million hunters are opposed to the ban on Sunday hunting. Like it or not, change is sure to come.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

its way past time for Sunday hunting , wake up P.A.

6:18 PM

Blogger Moye said...

I live in GA where hunting is allowed on Sunday. I personally do not have time to hunt on Sunday because of Church. I feel that Sundays are meant for church. It would not bother me at all if all hunting was outlawed on Sundays. It's sad that many churches in our area lose the attention of Men during hunting season. I fail to understand how a True Christian would rather hunt on Sunday instead of spending time in God's house. Faith that want carry you to church on Sunday during hunting season will probably not carry you to heaven. Strong words, I know, but I am only stating what God's word teaches us.

2:33 PM

Blogger chris said...

I understand what you are saying Moye, i grew up in a presbyerian chruch in Pennsylvania. I know live in Ohio where sunday hunting is legal. I typically do not hunt on sundays but it is nice that on some sunday afternoons and evenings I can spend time in my tree stand. Bottom line is not everyone has the same faith as you and I.

I have spent many Sunday afternoons after church in Pennsylvania on a trout stream with my father or on a lake bass fishing. It is time that i cherish and have fond memories. what would be so wrong in having those memories in a tree stand watching a deer chase a doe with my father?

10:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most reasons for not supporting sunday hunting have nothing to do with religion. Mine are based on the fact right now the people in charge at pgc simply cant be trusted with the environmentally extreme deer plan in place. This is just the next step they want in place to kill more deer plain and simple. That is where this push is coming from.

2:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Exactly who is HUSH (short for Hunters United for Sunday Hunting). That is the question everyone is asking. That is what we have explored and the results are not quite fitting in with hushes claims that this is all about the future of hunting, constitutionality etc. Many believe they are just politically driven environmentalists as opposed to the "hunter advocates" they would like legislators and others to believe.

Lets take an in depth look at the 4 people who make up HUSH and their motives for doing so.

First, we start with Kathy Davis, the groups founder. A known enviroextreme type, Kathy has pushed and lobbied for legislation and regulation that would lower the states deer herd for years. The causes she has championed pretty much mirror those suggested by the audubon deer forum for things "needed" to further reduce the deer herd. She has also many environmental connections, and has voted for further herd reductions on a citizen advisory committee where she took part, even though the Pa Game Commission had a set goal of stabilization. She was voted down by the majority of the other participants on the committee, and her initiative failed. She had also had an interest in obtaining a PGC commissioner seat for unit 2A, but her attempt was quashed by concerned sportsmen voicing concerns over the proposed nominee. Ms. Davis has also alienated several legislators with her percieved extremism and dogged determination when it comes to her misguided lobbying efforts. There are also multiple pgc commissioners that have also said they have "tuned her out" for the same reasons. Some members of one of the larger sportsmen groups in the state, apparently confused by so much percieved extremism, have actually inquired about her being an ANTI-hunter.

Vern Ross, another of the hush members is, interestingly enough, the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission who was a driving force behind getting deer herd reduction into place. Vern will forever be looked back upon as one of the most controversial figures in Pa game management history for the role he played in forever changing Pa deer management under the Ridge administrations deer program.

Don Heckman, a very active participant when it came to weighing in on game issues, has consistently voiced strong support for the deer management plan and reductions. Taking a very extreme stance on the issue for years. A very adament supporter of the Pa Game Commission deer plan, as were some of his close nwtf colleagues. Mr. Heckman has certainly done some good things for wild turkey management in the state, and that should not go ignored in this brief summary.

2:57 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh First. Mr. First has quite the lengthy list of environmentalist ties. He is also very active in the environmental arena, so much so, he was pointed to as being an environmental extremist by one of the states largest sportsmen groups who opposed his nomination when he tried to gain an appointment to the Pa game commissions board of commissioners. He has also worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, Dcnr (under Tom Ridge) is on the policy council of 10,000 friends of Pennsylvania and is coordinator for 'Pa Habitat Alliance' which is headed by the Audubon Society. His environmentalism resume is far too lengthy to list here, but much informtion is available online. Mr. First also made a failed attempt to gain the senatorial seat of Pa district 15 in 2012.

Many believe that these people are nothing more than very willing pawns in the "deer wars" and it certainly looks that this may indeed be the case. Sunday hunting would go a long way towards being able to harvest more deer, and thereby further what some are calling an "environmentally extreme" agenda.

It is our belief that the unsupportable deer herd reductions and resulting maleffects of extremely low hunter satisfaction and drop out is very damaging to our hunting heritage in Pennsylvania and it has gone on long enough.

2:57 PM

Blogger Fred Gill said...

Interesting blog. This is one of my favorite blog about hunting and I also want you to update more post like this. Thanks for sharing this article.

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