Friday, February 3, 2012

Is Sunday Hunting Really Illegal in Virginia?

Expanded Sunday hunting in Virginia suffered a blow earlier this week when all House versions of the Bill were dropped by their respective patrons in subcommittee, partially to allow time for more information gathering, partially to give a better chance for the approved Senate version (SB 464) to come to the floor during the "Crossover" session, and partially in a bow to opponents of Sunday hunting.

As I've written about several times, there is a peculiar alliance (using the term "alliance" loosely) between a few powerful parties that want to continue the ban on Expanded Sunday hunting.  Why do I keep saying "expanded" Sunday hunting? Because a few of those parties for the Sunday ban (hound hunters, Virginia Farm Bureau) don't want the other parties (animal rights groups, some Christians) to know that Sunday hunting is already quite legal across the state.  You may not have ever heard of this, because in many cases, it's not called "hunting," even though it involves dogs, guns, traps, and wildlife being injured, harassed, or killed intentionally. Gosh, it already sounds more brutal than hunting!

For those who fear that Sunday hunting represents a public safety concern, please contact your local delegate immediately, because Sunday hunting is happening this Sunday, in your County in Virginia. 

On private land, hunters who use hounds are allowed to conclude their hunt up to 24 hours after the end of the hunting season, which includes several Sundays.  (side note: funny - if I fire a shot at a goose 5 minutes after shooting time on the last day of the season, I'll get a ticket).  While retrieving dogs and deer the following day after a legal hunt, hunters are not to have any firearms in their possession.  However, this state law is broken frequently and overlooked by police, because everyone understands that a mortally wounded deer must be dispatched with a firearm (the other option is for it to be torn apart by hounds).  And to be fair to those hunters, it's illegal and highly unethical for hunters to leave mortally wounded deer in the wild (this is referred to as "wanton waste.").  Let's be honest - in a 1,900 acre patch of woods behind locked steel gates, who's to discern a "mortally wounded" vs. "non-fatally shot" deer?

What's more is that current Delegate Ware (who says he strongly opposes Sunday hunting) recently sponsored a bill (now state law) that does not allow police to "assume" someone is hunting on Sunday if they are found in possession of a hunting weapon, loaded with hunting ammo, wearing full camouflage, "in the woods."   I think I can fairly question whether that law was written to benefit those who illegally shoot deer and bear on Sunday at the conclusion of their otherwise legal pursuit of deer and bear on Sunday.

Thus, I'd argue that we already have Sunday hunting for deer in Virginia.  Bet you didn't know that!  And Delegate Ware, strong opponent of Sunday hunting, has already done his part to make sure that Sunday deer hunting continues - legal or not.

It is not legal however to hunt coyotes on Sundays, however, it is legal to trap them on Sundays, and if they are trapped on a Saturday, they must be killed (legally: by a rifle/pistol shot to the head) on Sunday.  State law prohibits trapped wildlife from being moved, which means they must be killed when the trapper discovers them.  Which means Coyotes can be legally trapped and shot on Sundays.

Black Bear  On Sundays, black bear can legally be chased (under the guise of "training") until cornered by packs of hunting dogs.  A current bill is afloat in Virginia to expand the hours to include Sunday nights.  The only requirements are that the bear not be completely killed (harvested), and that the hunters do not have any weapons in their possession.  Again, I find it a bit difficult to believe that a hunter with $10,000 worth of purebred hounds will allow for the possibility that a bear will maul his or her hounds during chase season, and thus, are fairly likely to carry at least a handgun. And once again, Sunday hunting opponents like Delegate Ware passed a bill that stops game wardens from "assuming" a guy in camo, with 20 hounds and a loaded rifle is "hunting bears" on Sunday.  Why would anyone make such a crazy assumption?!

In Virginia, Raccoon hunting is legal until 2:00am on Sunday.  It is typically pursued by allowing a pack of hounds to scare a raccoon up into the tree.  Then, the raccoon is lit up by strong floodlights, and is shot by hunters, and then it falls dead, out of the tree.   Let's have some more of those quotes about how the "Sundays are sacred in rural Virginia."

Red Fox

In Virginia, Red Fox can be trapped commercially (for fur) or as a nuisance species.  State law requires that trappers visit each trap every 24 hours (including Sundays), and kill any trapped animals with a single shot from a firearm.  This means that fox trapped on Saturdays are shot on Sundays, and the trap re-set so another fox can be trapped on Sunday afternoon/evening.

Virginia law also includes this language about fox hunting:

Fox. - There shall be a continuous open season for hunting with dogs only. The hunting or pursuit of foxes shall mean the actual following of the dogs while in pursuit of a fox or foxes or managing the dog or dogs while the fox or foxes are being hunted or pursued. Foxes may be killed at any time by the owner or tenant of any land when such animals are doing damage to domestic stock or fowl. 

So a red fox on a farm can be killed at any time in Virginia, as long as the landowner convinces himself or herself that the fox is "doing damage" to livestock or captive birds.   Notice the term "kill" (which can include hunting firearms) vs. "hunt" (same ammo, same gun, but illegal on sundays). Plus, at any time in Virginia (including Sundays), hounds can be used to chase fox, corner them, and harass them, as long as the hunter does not fully kill the fox.    Now tell me again about how the Sunday hunting ban gives wildlife a day of rest!

Rabbit and Gray Squirrel

Virginia law states:
Rabbits and squirrels. - It shall be unlawful to kill rabbits and squirrels during the closed season; however, the following persons may kill rabbits or squirrels for their own use during the closed season:

1. A landowner and members of his immediate family;

2. Resident members of hunt clubs who own the land in fee, either jointly or through a holding company;

3. Tenants residing on the premises, with the written permission of the landowner.

Again, there's a fine line between "hunting" and "killing," but this language reads that rabbits and squirrels can be pursued and...hunted...umm...killed by shooting a small game round from a hunting firearm...on Sundays, by landowners and tenants.   Gosh, a Sunday where you follow dogs around the farm and then shoot the rabbits that scurry out, sure sounds a lot like Sunday hunting to me.


The Woodchuck / Groundhog defined as a nuisance species in Virginia, and not a game species.  As a result, it is not "hunted" but "shot."  It is perfectly legal to lay in a field full of equestrians and horses and shoot groundhogs on Sunday, in Virginia.  It is not, however, legal to lay in the same field on Sunday and "hunt" them.

Ring-Necked Pheasant
Virginia allows for farm raised pheasants to be released into the wild and then shot on Sundays, on designated preserves (which are all surrounded by non-designated preserves known as "the neighbors.").  Virginia law designates this as a "shoot" and not a "hunt" because no matter how long the "Captive Pheasant" has lived in the wild, it was hatched in a cage, giving it about the same legal protection as a chicken (which is to say: none).

This is a direct response to those who claim that rural life would be disrupted by "any" Sunday hunting, those who say that Sunday hunting is not part of Virginia's hunting tradition, and those who say that public safety would be at risk if "any" Sunday hunting is permitted.  

Now you know that Sunday hunting, shooting, chasing, and/or killing are, in fact permitted in Virginia for many, many species of wildlife.  And in instances where it is not legal, the state legislature has enabled provisions that make it very difficult to ticket and prosecute Sunday hunting violators. 

And you know, it leaves me with the suspicion that many of those lobbyists and legislators who claim to so vociferously "oppose all Sunday hunting" really mean they support Sunday hunting for themselves (which they already have in place) - but not expanded Sunday hunting for everyone else. 

The Virginia state legislature continues to balk on fully legalized Sunday hunting,
but has meanwhile passed legislation making it nearly impossible to ticket or convict the above shooter
of "hunting on Sunday."   After all - he could just be practice shooting! 


Roger Hinde said...

This is a "must read" for anyone who is interested in intellectual honesty! There can be no argument that deals with this issue honestly and still deny that full rights are not due to those want to legally hunt on private property on Sunday.

Tony Rutherford said...

What a great share River......thanks! If SB464 fails, those Delegates that vote in opposition will be asked, and likely forced, to defend their vote. A "no" vote will send a massage to every landowner in Virginia, and it'll be a meassage that won't set well. A "no" vote will be telling every landowner, regardless of how strongly that landowner would support or oppose hunting on Sunday, that the Government of the Commonwealth of Virginia has decided that you, as a landowner shall have no right of access to hunt your own property on Sundays, nor shall you have the right to invite guests to hunt that property, free of charge or on a fee basis, while at the same time, you shall have no right to restrict hunting access by others (hound hunters) to that very same property.

So, when we examine this a little closer.....the State is essentially punishing every landowner by preventing from them hunting access, and costing each associated Sunday hunting lease revenue. Yet the State is requiring that same landowner to grant Sunday hunting access to others regardless of whether they approve or not, without compensation.

Sunday hunting may not be realized this session, but I'm confident that if it doesn't VA will be made to realize that it made a very costly decision.

River Mud said...

Personally, I am most excited to walk into flooded timber on a sunday morning (say, in April) with a 12 gauge loaded full of 3" #6 non-toxic, wearing camo waders, a camo mask, and camo coat and gloves, and be able to tell the game warden straight-faced,

"I ain't huntin' and you can't prove I is."

Trevor Chattin said...

This is a great article, and a must read for anyone involved in the Sunday Hunting movement, whether they are for or against it.

Fish said...

Casn you post up the location/link of the regs/statute that says landowners can huntsquirrels and rabbits on Sundays?

River Mud said...

Fish, here's the statute:

Landowners can hunt rabbit and squirrel "for their own use" at any time. In addition, damage control permits can be issued by DGIF that allows the landowner to shoot, at any time, squirrels/rabbits who are "doing damage" to property.

Fish said...

Thanks. Does "closed season" include Sundays? To me, it refers to the rest of the year outside the designated hunting season.

I mentioned this reg to someone and they called me on it. I just want to clarify that it does include Sundays.

Great blog, by the way.

River Mud said...

You'd have to test it in court. "Standard" hunting is closed on Sunday, ergo, closed season. I highly doubt that you'd be convicted, if you could show that you were feeding your family the meat from rabbits you shot on your own property on Sunday.

What's clear, though, is that there are situations where it's 100% legal to SHOOT them on Sundays, even if it's not legal to HUNT them on Sundays. The line between "HUNT" and "SHOOT" being impossibly thin.

And once again, if you catch it in a trap on Sunday, you can shoot it in the head on Sunday.

River Mud said...

And of course, if you are standing in your own field with a loaded shotgun, one of the opponents of Sunday hunting (Del. Ware) passed that amendment to the state code prohibiting the police from assuming that a person in camo with a loaded hunting weapon is "hunting on Sunday."

William O. Douglas Loeffler said...

Is your point how extremely stupid the Commonwealth of Virginia and its laws are?

Because if that is your point, then you can just go back to the Board of Education and Loving cases in the 1960's where Virginia opposed integration of black school children into public schools and married between "color people" and whites. Public schools were actually abolished in some Virginia counties after the Board case, while the Lovings were exiled from Virginian to D.C. for being unequally "yoke."

Of course that was ages ago, no?

Well, the judge who wrote the opinion in the Loving case, Harry Carrico was the Chief Judge of the Virgina Supreme Court until the mid-90's or so and has still been employed at the University of Richmond Law School. He has recently been honored by the Virginia State Bar and has had an award given in his name by the bar and remains as a Senior Justice.

Good luck getting some sort of competence out of Virginia.

River Mud said...

Yes, that was kind of my point. And to your point, I recently saw the UVA-produced documentary "The Fall of Massive Resistance." I was born in a fairly segregated area (southeastern VA) after desegregation, and while being pretty conscious of these issues, I had no idea that those morons at the County level closed down entire county school systems (FOR YEARS!!!) rather than integrate.

What a shameful time. An entire generation of poor white and almost all black children did not get to finish school. FOR NO REASON! (I consider racism = "no reason").

Despite my swipe at me on another fishing post, you hit yet a third homerun in this one - through the legislative process on this issue, the "old boy network" has been confirmed. One that prefers the undocumented "remarks" of subcommittees to the public "testimony" of committees. That relies on the basis of "my voters support this measure" when it suits them, and "my personal beliefs will not allow me to support this - my voters elect me to make decisions" when THAT suits them.

Takes me back to that old Leonard Cohen song, "Everybody Knows."

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