Friday, December 23, 2011

What's the Sunday Hunting Ban Really About? (Part II - Supporters of the Ban)

Note: I originally wrote this piece for Tim Borkert's blog - The Unlucky Hunter. Pay Tim a visit. 

Sunday hunting. To some, it conjures up memories of days afield with kids who have a once-a-week reprieve from school and sports. To others, it is yet another signal that America is moving away from being a society that encourages us to spend time at church and at home on Sunday. 

From a purely logical standpoint, the Sunday hunting ban no longer holds much merit because other activities involving willful animal harvest – including commercial and recreational fishing, crabbing, lobstering, clamming, and shrimping…to say nothing of commercial slaughtering ….are permitted on Sunday in every state, and indeed, opponents of Sunday hunting participate in these activities. So now you know my opinion. 

In Part I of this series, we took a basic look at the historical (and hysterical) premise of the sunday hunting ban, as well as a basic look at the groups of people most aligned with continuing this ban in the 9 states where it still fully exists, and the types of groups most actively trying to have the ban repealed, thus, allowing sunday hunting where it is currently not allowed.  In this post, we'll take a very detailed look at the groups most prominently opposed to Sunday hunting.  Buckle your seatbelts. 

1.  Group: Animal Rights Activists and Anti-Hunters

Organizations: HSUS, other local groups

Why they oppose sunday hunting:  Any increase in hunting opportunities is a setback for the cause of anti-hunters and animal rights activists, because the potential for animals to be killed is inherently increased, at least by a tiny margin.  The long-term goal of most of these organizations is to abolish all animal hunting, all fishing, and all slaughtering of livestock.   Their publicly stated reasoning is composed of two main topics: 1) Hunting is on the decline, while wildlife watching is increasing in popularity; and 2) Sunday hunting means that non-hunters will get killed while walking their dog. 

What merit does that reasoning have? I have to say that out of all of these groups, this is one that is based on a genuine ideology.   While I totally disagree with it, I'm compelled to respect it.  They hate hunting.  Repealing the sunday hunting ban would increase hunting, at least slightly.   Unfortunately, the honesty ends there.   These organizations routinely make claims like "36% of Americans participate in wildlife viewing but only 10% are hunters," so therefore hunting on sundays should never occur.

 First of all, I'd guarantee that the 36% of wildlife viewers includes the 10% of hunters.  Even if we ignore that, the assumption that 100 million Americans are actively, truly engaged in watching wildlife other than from their porch or kitchen window is sadly.......just laughable.  In fact, extensive USFWS data indicates that 2/3 of Americans identifying themselves as "wildlife watchers" do not ever leave their house to watch wildlife.   So the number is really: "wildlife watchers away from home, including hunters: 12%; hunters: 10%."   I can't say for a fact that data means that real, traveling non-hunting wildlife watchers are 2% (12%-10%) of the population (not 36%, as advertised), but if I were an anti-hunter, I'd boldly make that claim and not think twice about it.   Suffice to say, that claim and many of their claims are dubious at best.

The USFWS data also indicates another critical trend that the anti-hunters don't want you to know about - while everyone knows that participation in hunting is on the decline, USFWS data also shows a parallel 20-year decline in Americans' participation in wildlife watching away from home, aka "non-consumptive wildlife tourism."   So that group of wildlife watchers that anti-hunters are soooo worried about?  They are disappearing as fast as hunters.  Their numbers are, in fact, NOT increasing. Or even staying stable. 

On the second topic (safety), I actually crunched the numbers on how sunday hunting might impact hunting accident statistics.   The answer: None or not much.   It's safe to go outside during hunting season! Bottom line.  And with most states having 7 days per week of hunting all season long, with millions of non-hunters afield all season long, it's unusual for a state to report more than 1 non-hunter fatality.  Of course, the anti-hunters like to bring up bizarre "what-if's" like, "What if I get lost in the forest, and I'm trespassing, and I'm wearing all brown fur clothes, and there's a poacher in a tree, and he's drunk and a racist........"  Come on now.  

As always, the anti-hunters and animal rights activists have compelling emotion and compassion on their side.  But as usual, members of their organizations are quick to misrepresent facts or boldly lie just to convince people to support them.  That's a shame, because it prevents us all from having any type of adult conversation on the topic (and many other important conservation topics).

2.  Group: Religious conservatives

Organizations:  Mostly just "concerned individuals"

Why they oppose sunday hunting:  For at least the last 130 years, Sunday has been observed as a day of rest and/or worship in popular American culture.    These individuals are concerned that the advent of sunday hunting would impact our nation's spirituality as a whole, and is symbolic of our culture's downward spiral away from traditional Christian values. 

What merit does that reasoning have? Well, basically, none whatsoever.  According to a long list of studies including one by Gallup, the 20 states reporting highest church attendance all have some form of sunday hunting.  Meanwhile, five of the six  states reporting the lowest church attendance all have a total sunday hunting ban in place.   If I were a reporter on Fox News or MSNBC, I'd be compelled to report to you that "Gallup Poll shows that Sunday hunting is Good for Church Attendance," but of course, that's not fair to say.  It is fair to say that there is absolutely no statistical relationship between sunday hunting and church attendance.

Now let's step away from "church" and talk "spirituality," since we can all likely agree that the two are not the same.   These same Christians believe that it is just distasteful or disrespectful to God to be out in the woods, looking to kill a deer or a duck on a sunday evening.  That's their belief and I respect it.  However, how many of these ideologues take their kids or grandkids fishing on sunday afternoon, after church?  Answer: a whole lot of them.  Spiritually and logically, this just doesn't line up, unless you have some kind of crazy spirituality that stipulates that killing a duck at 4:45pm on sunday is not the moral equivalent of killing a catfish or trout at 5pm on sunday.   I have yet to find a religion stipulating such values, so I feel comfortable in dismissing the spiritual argument.  Killing animals is killing animals - whether by hook or by bullet.   And if Sunday is too holy for hunting, it's too holy for fishing, football, video games, NASCAR, and most significantly, beer.  

3. Group: Farm Lobbies

Organizations:  Virginia Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, others

Why they oppose sunday hunting:  Not at all clear, but the bottom line is that the individual county farm bureaus within individual state farm bureaus continue to vote to support the sunday hunting ban - meaning that at least a significant group of  farm bureau members (farmers or farm owners) continue to oppose Sunday hunting.  

What merit does that reasoning have?  It's hard to tell, without knowing what Farm Bureau reps are telling their member farmers about sunday hunting and its possible risks and benefits.   While claims have been made that the Bureau has provided misleading information about sunday hunting issues, I certainly can't verify those reports first-hand, so I won't even link to them.  

Nonetheless, the bottom line of "we listen to our members" remains pretty damn valid......or rather it did, until  the Virginia Farm Bureau recently released this bizarre  policy statement that gives some amazing insight about how they frame their discussion on sunday hunting.  It's a piece of work, if you enjoy train wrecks.

The policy statement includes claims, among other hilarious and ridiculous things, that sunday hunting would be fruitless for hunters,  because "wildlife learn habits of hunters and avoid them."     While there is such a thing as "hunting pressure," millions of ducks, geese, doves, deer, squirrels, and rabbits were killed on Sundays across the United States last year.  They certainly didn't "learn the habits of hunters."

If I had to bet, I'd wager that the Farm Bureau state offices in the 41 states with (some form of) sunday hunting would argue that they support sunday hunting in their own state, if only because they support landowner rights.  How the VAFB and PAFB don't back that philosophy, I don't know, but their members continue to oppose sunday hunting in democratic votes.  So there you have it.  

Still, there's hope for change on this front.  The Ohio Farm Bureau recently (2002) voted to endorse sunday hunting after the state promised to strengthen poaching and trespassing laws.  This will be an important model for Pennsylvania to look at, as many landowners and farmers are highly concerned about any impact that sunday hunting may have on the already ridiculous problem of private land poaching by trespassers.  As the former vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau said, "I believe farmers feared change more than the issue itself."  Bottom line though - until members of the individual Farm Bureaus feel comfortable that Sunday hunting won't impact them negatively, they won't vote to stop supporting the ban.

4. Group: Deer Hunters who chase with dogs

Organizations:  Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, among others.

Why they oppose sunday hunting?  VHDA's position paper on the topic says that the first and foremost reason is that God wants us to keep sunday holy.  Second, these groups have lately been admitting more openly that hunting - especially hunting with dogs (I've only heard one representative of one group publicly state that part) - may be more likely to come under scrutiny from anti-hunters if sunday hunting is allowed.   They theorize that hunting, especially with dogs, could be severely curtailed or banned as a result of increased conflicts with non-hunters on sundays. 

What merit does that reasoning have?

Okay.  On the first reason - that God wants us to keep sunday holy.    If Sunday's holy, it's holy, right?  It's not only holy for deer.  It's not only holy for sunday morning until you get out of church.  If the sabbath is holy, it's holy.  No loopholes.   No hunting. No fishing.  No football. No NASCAR.  No beer. Holy. 

On the second reason - not fueling the anti-hunting fire (towards hunting in general) -  I actually understand what they fear.  But like the anti-hunters and Farm Bureau supporters, I believe that their fear is not based in fact.   Many "Yankee" states have sunday hunting.  And since sunday hunting was added, those states have not moved to ban any stretch of the imagination.   As I've documented above, non-hunters have not been pushed out of public properties, hunting accidents have not increased, I mean, it certainly seems like nothing negative happens when the sunday hunting ban is lifted. 

There's another part of this, though - and that's the "hunting with dogs" part.   Recently these guys have been more openly admitting that they fear the loss of their own quality hunting, and possibly their heritage, if sunday hunting becomes legal.  First, deer hounds are typically run on saturdays, and rested on sundays.  This means that even if sunday hunting were legal, most quality hounds would be taking a day off.  Let me rephrase that.  It means that other people would be hunting deer on days that chase dog owners are not hunting deer.  "Their" deer.  And nobody's gonna go out there on sundays and kill their deer. 

Finally, the heritage of deer hounds.   Having grown up in Tidewater, Virginia, and having had "enough" hunts ruined by packs of dogs running miles ahead of their owners (and across dozens of property lines), I think I can speak on this topic.  The deer hound culture, in 2011, strongly looks like this:

Amazingly, these guys are finally realizing that "maybe" this presents an image problem, in a world full of the internet, animal rights freaks, and a general public that is occasionally scared of hunters of any kind.  As a result, they are becoming highly sensitive to public opposition to deer hound antics and I believe are starting to do a slightly better job of policing their own culture.   For instance, here's the picture featured on their main web page:

I commend them for their marketing effort - sincerely.  While it's true that fox chasing is LEGAL on sundays (ironic!), that clean, regal imagery certainly appeals to the general public more than this fairly typical imagery of chase dog ownership:


Ultimately, the deer hound folks are going to have to fully realize that the future of their hunting tradition will not swing on the approval of sunday hunting, but more likely, the general public's negative perception of guys who sit on the tailgate of a pickup truck waiting for the dogs to chase a deer out of the woods so it can be shot.   How they use that knowledge to save their particular style of hunting and heritage? I don't know.  But I think it can be done.  Probably not from a truck's tailgate, though.

Overall, sunday hunting doesn't appear to be the menace that any of these groups fear that it might be.  Sunday hunting could mean a shorter hunting season.  And that the spiritually inclined will still go to church and get to choose whether they should hunt on sunday evening.  And that landowners will still have the same protections - and problems - that they already do regarding public access, trespassing, and poaching. And that the general public is still safe in the woods, even during hunting season.  And that anti-hunters are no closer to their goal of stopping recreational hunting in the United States.

But if everything stays the same, what does that mean for the proponents of sunday hunting, who predict increases in license sales, a boom in the number of new and youth hunters, and a huge economic swing in tourism income for states like Virginia and Pennsylvania?  Well, the folks who loved this write-up might just hate that one......and it's coming next.

Thanks for stopping by!


Rabid Outdoorsman said...

The Sunday hunting ban in Maine continues to be supported by the same ridiculous rhetoric and superstitions. Even the Maine Guides association won't support lifting the ban because they are worried about the repercussions from disgruntled landowners, in particular the Small Wood lot Owners of Maine (SWOM). This group is comprised of a bunch of slack jawed neanderthals with little regard to even beginning to understand what it would REALLY mean to finally eliminate this stupid blue law.

I continue to be unimpressed with my state's politics and considering moving to New Hampshire . . . which by the way allows Sunday hunting.

Anonymous said...

Author Robert Fuller provided the best explanation to date for most matters when he wrote:
“The question is not whether or not a system works but for whom the system works.”
Why don’t people who work weekends ever get a weekday, fish or game opener?
Why do conservatives as well as conservationalists ignore the true foundation of American capital: the forced annexation of American Indian Land, water resources and Natural resources?
So, it’s not the why, but the whom.

Kirk Mantay said...

Very, VERY true words!

In Maryland and Virginia, I believe the opening days of fishing seasons are almost always on weekends, but the opening days of hunting seasons are almost always on weekdays.

It is definitely all about the "whom." Sorting it after so many years is a hell of a chore, too.

Kirk Mantay said...

(comment eaten by blogspot...)

Rabid Outdoorsman said:

The Sunday hunting ban in Maine continues to be supported by the same ridiculous rhetoric and superstitions. Even the Maine Guides association won't support lifting the ban because they are worried about the repercussions from disgruntled landowners, in particular the Small Wood lot Owners of Maine (SWOM). This group is comprised of a bunch of slack jawed neanderthals with little regard to even beginning to understand what it would REALLY mean to finally eliminate this stupid blue law.

I continue to be unimpressed with my state's politics and considering moving to New Hampshire . . . which by the way allows Sunday hunting.

Funcfish said...

Hey I'm not part of any of these groups and I'm not anti-hunting in fact I just did a flyer for some hunting guide buddies I have.

I don't want Sunday hunting because I know on Sundays I can walk around safely in the forest (while fishing) without some trigger happy slack jaw yokel taking a shot at me.

I mean wouldn't any self respecting outdoors-man rather fish on Sunday anyway?

I'm selfish and frankly I agree the ban is BS. I'd support the movement but hey... Then I'd have to dress in blaze orange on Sunday and that's just uncivilized! (:

Kirk Mantay said...

Func - you bring up a very important issue - the safety issue. The hunting community has largely done a HORRIBLE job of reminding people that hunting doesn't represent a safety threat to non-hunting. You're far more likely to get hit by a drunk driver as you walk across a road during your fishing hike, than to get impaled by an arrow.

There's no one else out there to tell that story except hunters...and we've done a pitiful job of publicizing it. Guns are scary (which is a shame, but a very human reaction) and guns are deadly (which is a fact), so it's easy to have a fearful public.

PA and some of the northern states are different because you can just walk onto someone's property and hunt. That certainly adds an element of danger.

From the Mason-Dixon south, you have to have written permission to hunt or fish on private land, and a fair # of landowners (and of course, public landowners like county parks) aren't interested in giving out permission to hunt on sundays.

Michael J. Budd said...

Awesome post! I'm glad you're taking an active stance on Sunday hunting. Keep the ball rolling.

We should team up on a hound hunting article. I've got at least one picture of a hound running down HWY17 in the Northern Neck. I wish I had pictures of the hounds running down interstate 64 east of Richmond, and the traffic jam that ensued.

Kirk Mantay said...

Yeah, we should do that. What angle would we take? I respect deer chasing as a part of a larger heritage, but if it's going to stay intact, they are going to have to do some in-house cleaning. Where would I start?

1. No pushing deer with hounds, on a woodlot where you don't have permission to hunt/chase the properties on all 4 sides of the woodlot.

2. No pushing deer with hounds on any woodlot, swamp, or marsh that is not part of a minimum 60 acre holding.

3. Except in the case of disabled hunters (including elderly), shooters shall not be stationed within 100 yards of a public road or within 50 yards of a licensed vehicle (truck, car).

Those are the kinds of changes that would clean up the sport and limit complaints from neighbors and non-hunters. But from what I understand, that particular hunting community is not really interested in what others think about their practices (except for keeping the sunday hunting ban in place).

Tom Sadler said...

I have always thought bans on Sunday hunting were wrong and should be repealed, so when a local reporter contacted me for my views on the ban on Sunday hunting here in Va, I was only too happy to oblige. Here is a follow up blog post that encourages folks to read your excellent sereis on the subject. Great work!

Kirk Mantay said...

Thanks for the links, Tom! I don't think sunday hunting will solve all of hunting's woes, but for the life of me, I see absolutely no serious reason to keep it banned!

The proposed VA compromise (I don't think it's an official compromise under discussion) to open up sunday afternoons to bow hunting actually sounds like a wise, wise move to me.

Those are the kind of common sense compromises that may be necessary and are appropriate. Maybe it's private land only, maybe afternoons only......bottom line is that there has to be some "give" here.

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