A bill that would give the Pennsylvania Game Commission the authority to permit hunting on Sundays has cleared its first hurdle as the Senate Game & Fisheries Committee voted 8-3 Tuesday to advance the bill to the full Senate. The legislation, SB147, was introduced Friday by Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) and co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Brewster (D- Allegheny/Westmoreland).
“This is a historic vote, as it takes a major step toward increasing recreational opportunities for the thousands of Pennsylvania sportsmen and women who enjoy hunting,” Laughlin said. “This will remove one of only two ‘blue laws’ remaining in the state of Pennsylvania. You can’t hunt and you can’t buy a car on Sunday in Pennsylvania.”
In the Keystone State, only coyotes, crows and foxes can be pursued on Sundays. While many states surrounding Pennsylvania have added Sunday hunting in recent years, the Keystone State remains one of the last holdouts. The other two states that don’t allow hunting on Sundays are Maine and Massachusetts.
“I am very cautiously optimistic — this was a great win today,” said Harold Daub, executive director of Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, a volunteer advocacy group. “I’ve been told the first vote is the hardest one to crack the ice on, so I’m really excited that the vote came through.
“This is something Pennsylvania needs, and I’m really proud of Hunters United for Sunday Hunting for working hard. It’s something to be proud of today, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”
While the Game Commission is responsible for managing the state’s wildlife and setting hunting seasons and bag limits, the agency has no say in whether or not to permit Sunday hunting. It requires an act of the Legislature.
Commission Communications Director Travis Lau said the board of commissioners has repeatedly come out in support of legislation that would give the agency the authority to regulate Sunday hunting.
“We heard a lot of comments on Sunday hunting, both Sunday and Monday at the commissioners meeting [Jan. 27-29],” Lau said. “A lot of that came from the Hunters United for Sunday Hunting group [and] Sen. Laughlin did comment at the Sunday meeting.
“All them of them are very hopeful that this legislation already has the support that is necessary to move it through and that we might see a change sooner rather than later.”
Over the past few years, several sportsmen’s groups have spoken in favor of Sunday hunting, while a number of organizations including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Keystone Trails Association are opposed. The topic is even highly controversial among hunters, with many against any expansion of Sunday hunting.
“There are a variety of reasons the hiking community opposes Sunday hunting, but by far the biggest reason is fear of being in the woods when hunters are also present,” said Joe Neville, executive director of Keystone Trails Association.
According to Neville, a 2017 Game Commission survey showed only 53 percent of hunters supported Sunday hunting at that time.
“So, 53 percent of 800,000 hunters out of 12.8 million Pennsylvanians means only slightly over 3 percent of Pennsylvanians support this issue,” Neville told The Morning Call late last week. “So why is this even being considered?”