Bills seek easing of Sunday hunting ban


Over the last few decades, many of Maryland's traditional blue laws have been repealed, and two bills in the state legislature ask that a long-standing ban on Sunday hunting also be partially lifted.

The bills, filed in the House (HB 906) and the Senate (SB 566), focus on forest game birds and mammals and ask the Department of Natural Resources to determine whether Sunday hunting is feasible.

Del. Michael H. Weir, a Harford-Baltimore County Democrat, said last week that limited Sunday hunting should be allowed in the state, as it is in all but a half-dozen other states.

"With the way people live today, cramming eight days into a seven-day week and 25 hours into a 24-hour day, the only time they have to go hunting is on the weekends," said Weir, one of eight delegates sponsoring the House bill. "I think hunting and being in the outdoors certainly is worth doing."

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Harford-Baltimore County Democrat. He could not be reached for comment.

Michael Slattery, director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Division, said the department has not taken a position on Sunday hunting because "it is a public policy issue most appropriately fought in the halls of the General Assembly."

However, Slattery said, Sunday hunting is a change commonly asked for by hunters "and the most frequently suggested solution to harvesting more deer."

In much of the state, the white-tail deer population is at or above acceptable levels.

Last year, DNR initiated very liberal bag limits in most counties, and statistical modeling indicates the deer kill could increase by as much as 70 percent in certain areas if Sunday hunting were allowed.

"As a deer management tool, there are a number of positive aspects to Sunday hunting," Slattery said. "It would be a good tool in most parts of the state. But we would need to think very carefully how we opened up in other areas."

In the western counties, for example, deer numbers are stable and increased hunting might not be advisable, Slattery said.

DNR also has concerns about other user groups -- hikers, bikers, bird-watchers, equestrians -- who use public lands for Sunday activities during hunting seasons.

The bills ask that DNR determine whether Sunday hunting would be "inconsistent with prior use of public lands."

Sources in the legislature and DNR said Sunday hunting has strong support from hunters, hotel and motel associations, tourism and some agricultural groups.

Slattery and Weir said Sunday hunting could be expected to provide an economic boost in rural areas of the state, perhaps most dramatically on the Eastern Shore, where fall and winter seasons for migratory Canada geese once drew hunters -- and dollars -- from around the world.

"Certainly, it would help bring in some dollars on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland," Weir said, noting that firearms season for deer traditionally opens on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, breaks for Sunday and resumes on Monday.

"Instead of coming in for just opening day, with Sunday hunting there easily could be a two- or three-day trip instead."

The Maryland Sportsmen's Association, which has 500 individual members and claims 43,000 members through other groups such as Ducks Unlimited, has circulated a petition at winter sporting shows in the region.

Steve Huettner, a member of the MSA board of directors, said the petition includes 4,500 signatures "from every legislative district in the state" supporting the change.

"One of the questions we are asked most often at the shows is: Why can't we hunt on Sundays," said Huettner. 'You can trap, fish and shop on Sundays. Why can't we hunt?"

For many people, Sunday is a family day involving church services and gatherings.

"Some people are definitely against it, and I can understand religious reasons," said Weir. "But Sunday is not a day of rest for all of us; maybe Saturday is their day. It is my desire to go hunting when I want to do it."

Another traditional thought has been that fowl and game need a day of rest, but the bills do not include provisions for hunting waterfowl on Sunday, and some avid hunters believe deer now rest through much of the week.

"Do deer need a day of rest?" said Greg Bowser, Central Maryland vice president for MSA. "I know when I go hunting for deer, I go for the first day and maybe the second day. After that, you rarely see anybody in the woods."

Weir said the bills, which are virtually the same, include language intended to make sure other user groups have free access to public lands and a reasonable expectation of safety.

"It wasn't so long ago that, because of the blue laws, I had to go to Colts games at 2 o'clock on Sunday instead of 1 o'clock," said Bowser. "Well, you can shop on Sundays, go to the game early and do about anything else. Why not hunt?"

House Bill 906 will be heard in Annapolis on Thursday at 1 p.m.

Senate Bill 566 will be heard Friday at 1 p.m.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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