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Pros, cons of Sunday hunting heard

The issue of Sunday hunting was brought before committees of the General Assembly late last week, and proponents said families need more time to hunt together on weekends, while opponents raised the issue of the safety of non-hunters trying to enjoy the outdoors.

At issue in House Bill 906 and Senate Bill 566 is whether Maryland should repeal its long-standing law prohibiting hunting on Sunday. The practice is allowed in 43 states, although several mid-Atlantic states prohibit it.

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The bills would limit hunting on Sunday to forest game birds such as grouse, and mammals -- turkey, squirrels and deer -- and ask the Department of Natural Resources to determine whether it "would be inconsistent with prior use" of the public land and make recommendations on its implementation.

DNR has not taken a stance, but department officials have said Sunday hunting could be a tool in its deer management plan and provide an economic boost in rural areas of the state.

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

The Maryland Farm Bureau is against it; the Maryland Grain Growers Association is for it.

The Maryland Sportsmen's Association circulated a petition that drew more than 3,000 signatures, and DNR officials acknowledge that Sunday hunting is the most frequently requested change in hunting regulations.

"Sunday hunting laws were established when we were a rural society, when you only had to walk out your back door to hunt," said Ed Soutierre, manager of Tudor Farms, a 7,200-acre regulated shooting area in Dorchester County.

These days, supporters of the bills say, finding time to get out and hunt is difficult, and getting interested members of the family together is tougher still.

"Saturdays have become so busy with fall sports that there isn't time anymore for families to hunt," Larry Albright, president of the MSA, said before the Senate hearing Friday. "When I was a kid, Saturdays weren't like that. There was time to hunt."

"One of the things I cherish from childhood was my father taking time to go with me into the field," said Tim Lambert, a Cecil County father of four who started the Sunday hunting petition last October. "I find it hard to find time to take a child into the woods and spend seven or eight hours."

Sunday hunting, he said, would allow him and other parents with similar interests to teach their children traditional pursuits.

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"Most hunters are introduced to it at a young age," said Lambert. "I feel that one of the reasons we are losing young hunters is that we are required to work so many hours."

But during hearings before the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, representatives of farmers, equestrians, hikers, birdwatchers and animal rights groups also were heard.

Alice Mosca, an official with the Caroline County 4-H Clubs and Silver Spurs equestrian club, said safety is a primary concern.

Hunters are restricted from shooting at wildlife within 150 yards of any occupied structure or camp without permission from the owner or occupant, but Mosca said hunters often are active within that limit around her property when children and domestic animals are outside.

"And if I don't yell at them to let them know we are there," she said, "then that child is shot, that dog is shot, that horse is shot. It is those kinds of things that scare us as parents and should scare you, too."

Statistically, however, one is more likely to be severely injured while riding in an automobile that collides with a deer than in a hunting accident.

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By law, hunters are prohibited from hunting posted public lands on any day of the week and from hunting private lands without written permission from owners.

"Those people who are in the woods illegally are not hunters, they are poachers and trespassers," said Albright. "We want them stopped just as much as anybody."

If the bills are passed, legislators said, landowners still will have the right to choose who hunts their land and when.

"The private landowner has every right to post his land," said Del. Michael H. Weir, D-Baltimore-Harford. "If he leases his land for hunting, he has every opportunity to exclude Sunday hunting."

Some legislators and opponents of the bills were interested in what impact Sunday hunting would have on management of the state's deer herd, which is too large in many areas of the state.

"How many more deer are you going to kill in a couple of extra Sundays?" Mosca said. "It's not a drop in the ocean."

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Michael Slattery, director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Division, said before the hearings that preliminary modeling by wildlife managers indicates deer harvests could increase by as much as 70 percent in certain areas.

Jacquie Cowan of Crownsville in Anne Arundel County said members of the Chesapeake Plantation Walking Horse Club take precautions while riding in the woods during hunting seasons.

"We sing, we yell, we do whatever we can to let people know we are coming through the woods," said Cowan. "If we pass this bill, not only won't they [fearful riders] be able to ride on Saturday, they won't be able to ride on Sunday, either."

Leslie Fisher of North East is a member of the Cecil County Bird Club, a group she said has limited public land on which to watch the spring and fall migration of birds through the upper bay corridor.

"Most of our membership is against Sunday hunting because it would interfere with the safety of our chosen pursuits," Fisher said.

Even if areas determined to have been regularly used by her club were closed to Sunday hunting, Fisher said she would be against the change.

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"Bullets are a deadly force," she said. "I don't think any other outdoors pursuit causes harm to man in a deadly manner."

Pub Date: 3/07/99


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