Could 2022 Finally See Sunday Hunting on Public Land in Virginia - or will Politics as Usual Prevail
The Last 'Blue Law'
A bill to allow Sunday hunting on public land was prefiled in the Virginia General Assembly in early December 2021 by Senator John Chapman “Chap” Peterson. Peterson is a Democrat representing the 34th Senate District of central and western Fairfax, which generally runs along I-66 west of the D.C. beltway to Centreville.
His Senate Bill 8 removes the ban on hunting on public land on Sundays in section 29.1-521 of the Code of Virginia. It also prohibits hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship. The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
It’s reasonable to expect that companion bills may surface soon in the House of Delegates. This 2022 session may be the one where this utterly unreasonable, archaic prohibition is finally repealed. In late October, the Board of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources signaled its strong support, unanimously passing a resolution endorsing Sunday hunting on public land.
Sunday hunting on private land was approved in 2014 after years of acrimonious debate. Still banned, though, was most hunting on public lands, including the nearly 250,000 acres of land on state wildlife management areas, land paid for and maintained largely with revenues from hunting licenses and excise taxes from sales of hunting related gear. The existing broader ban also keeps people off the 1.6 million acres of Washington-Jefferson National Forest land, 26 state forests totaling 71,972 acres, and Virginia’s military installations.
Puzzlingly, the 2014 change allowed Sunday hunting for ducks and geese on public waterways. In 2018, Sunday hunting for raccoons was approved.
Many hunters, including many novices, can hunt only on weekends and don’t have ready access to private lands. According to the DWR, nearly 40% of hunters pursue game species on public lands, meaning they are frozen out on Sundays, essentially losing 50% of their season. Opening public lands will increase access and opportunity for youth, families and hardworking adults with limited opportunities. Virginia’s current Sunday hunting ban on public land is a massive failure when it comes to state and nationwide efforts to recruit and retain hunters, the people who mostly pay the bill for wildlife conservation in the United States.
It took years, and a top-down edict from ranking leadership, before a bill allowing Sunday hunting on private land with written permission from the landowner finally was forced to a full House of Delegates proper hearing and floor vote. Both 2014 Senate and House bills allowing Sunday hunting on private lands passed overwhelmingly. Todd Gilbert’s House Bill 1237 passed on a 71-27 vote and Phillip P. Puckett’s Senate Bill 154 breezed through by a 29-10 margin.
Killing Sunday hunting bills in committee without fair debate or adequate public input was the reigning pre-2014, fix-is-in modus operandi. It’s still in vogue. Recent Sunday hunting bills have been rudely dispatched by committee in the House of Delegates. Delegate James Edmunds, Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus co-chair, introduced legislation in 2020 and 2021. Opponents made easily refuted smokescreen arguments about public safety, religious views and noise while lawmakers eager to spike the legislation eagerly lapped up the political top cover.
Among the most vociferous opponents is the Virginia Farm Bureau, a group who’s adopted 2021 position policies is a study in contradictions, especially when it comes to their repeated mantras of expanding hunting seasons, increasing bag limits, and supporting “the population control of wildlife and predatory birds by whatever means necessary.” Just don’t do it on Sunday.
So, anticipating the next round in this paradoxical cage fight, here are the facts: Sunday hunting takes place in most of the country without increased conflict. It takes place 6 days a week in Virginia without safety issues. Sunday hunting is legal on private lands and offering Sunday hunting on public land is far from a mandate that people must hunt versus go to church. Noise is not an issue – as many note, people can target shoot and waterfowl hunt all day on Sunday, but they can’t fire a single shot at a deer? No other recreational activities are banned on public lands on Sundays. It is the last “blue law.”
Note: This article also appeared in the Dec. 16, 2021 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star