Thursday, February 21, 2013

Virginia 2013: Fewer Hunters, Still No Sunday Hunting

The Virginia Farm Bureau Foundation believes that this type of 
reckless activity should be prohibited 
on your own property on Sundays.
Recently in USA Today, an article was published that analyzed some statistics from the USFWS periodic accounting of hunters and anglers.  The data is released every 5 years, and from 1992-2007, showed a steady decrease in the number of American hunters and anglers.  That's troubling for license sales, conservation, and also representation in our state and federal legislatures.  It's also troubling for the sportsman culture, which many of us hold so dear.  On Maryland's eastern shore, hunting and fishing are the second largest industry....behind agriculture.  Of course we want to see that increase.  What fools within the hunting community would want to see it decrease

But this year's data is much different.  Hunting and fishing advocates across the country, including all hunting organizations and the Farm Bureau organization in almost every state except possibly Virginia and Pennsylvania, are thrilled with the reported 9-11% participation gains in fishing and hunting - including a 13% increase in youth hunting - that have occurred over the last five years.  Everyone is ecstatic - states like Alaska and Louisiana, who offer all types of hunting 7 days per week, have shown increases in hunter and angler participation in excess of 40%.  8% annual growth!  In the second worst global recession in 150 years!   Perhaps we are doing something right - finally.

But not in Virginia, one of six (not 11, not 13, not 23) states that continues an outright ban on still-hunting for wild game on Sundays.  No sir.  You see,  in Virginia, as the NSSF has reported, and the USFWS final survey data (available soon) will likely reflect, hunting license sales continue to decline about 3% per year.  Think of it this way - while many states (differing from Virginia only in their expanded Sunday hunting rights) were able to grow their ranks of hunters 10, 20, 30, 40% and more over the last 5 years, Virginia lost over 15% of our hunters!

Yet, some "hunting" organizations continue to say, "Why change?"  In fact, they demand, "We will not even allow change!"  Leading the effort that is  contributing to the continued decline of hunting culture in Virginia is the unlikely and dubious alliance of the Humane Society of the United States (an avid-anti-hunting organization), the Virginia Farm Bureau Foundation (a rural rights lobbying group), and the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (who favor hunting with hounds, a Virginia tradition, and recently, a controversy among non-hunting Virginians).  Scratch your head over that one.  Now, they'll each tell you that there's no alliance between them, but all we needed to see was the HSUS' lobbyist's reaction to the Farm Bureau's testimony in last year's Virginia legislative session.

The HSUS reaction? Nodding in approval.  Chose not to add any testimony or rebut what the Farm Bureau had offered.   Seem strange to you?  If you're a hunter or a property rights should.

You see, the HSUS doesn't want Virginians to hunt.  At all.  We know that much. They profess it.

But the leadership of the VAHDA and the Virginia Farm Bureau enjoy hunting.  Sincerely, they do.  So why the strong position on Sunday hunting, year after year? As we all know, it's illegal to sit in a tree stand and hunt a deer on Sunday.  But on Sundays in Virginia, it's completely legal to:

1. Pursue deer and hounds with a loaded rifle, on someone else's property, without their permission, and without fear of harassment by law enforcement.
2. Chase foxes on horseback, with hounds, which may or may not result in a dead fox.
3. Hunt raccoons until 2am sunday.
4. Train bear hounds (with live bears) on sundays (so much for "a day of rest" for wildlife)

The VAHDA and Virginia Farm Bureau Foundation did not oppose any of the legislation that made those things legal.  In fact, they donated to the campaigns of elected officials who wrote and sponsored those different pieces of legislation.   It is clear that both organizations, through their actions, have actually supported Sunday hunting, chasing, and/or retrieval. For their donors and leaders.

Let's be clear - these two groups (or their leadership, at least) want to hunt on Sunday.  And they do so, legally (all the while, decrying sunday hunting for other hunters).   How? Why? What?
My interpretation is this:  perhaps they don't want you to hunt on Sunday.  My interpretation? Perhaps they don't want more hunters coming from Virginia Beach and Fairfax and Richmond.  Or Raleigh. Or Baltimore. Or Charlotte.  And my guess: perhaps they aren't concerned about the economic impact of a larger hunting community, and they aren't concerned about hunter recruitment.  There's already plenty of members in their areas, in their hunt clubs, and in their families. Everyone still hunts.  It's a wonderful thing - but it's not enough to sustain our heritage against the likes of the Humane Society of the United States.

One of their members asked me last year, "Why would we want more hunters? Too many hunters already."

In states who are in the process of overturning Sunday hunting bans, their pro-hunting organizations and their state Farm Bureau organizations (a tip of the hat to Maryland Farm Bureau) are leading the way to  open up access for hunters, increase hunter recruitment into the next generation, increase leasing and guiding income for farm owners, and increase local business and tax revenues through increased hunter activity.  All through expanding Sunday hunting in a way that makes sense to hunters (a majority of Virginia hunters support expanding sunday hunting) and non-hunters (a majority of Virginia non-hunters do not oppose sunday hunting).  More funding.  More business.  More tradition.  Sounds like common sense to most people.

We have to ask, "Don't the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and the VAHDA want those things?" And if not, why not?  Further, why would groups that believe -fully - in the value of rural and hunting traditions ever find themselves - without pause - on the same side of an argument as groups who have very different beliefs about our traditions:

My personal perception of the issue is that when it comes to Sunday hunting, it appears that the leadership of the Virginia hound community and the Virginia Beach Farm Bureau Foundation don't seem to see a conflict between their goals and traditions, and the goals of those who put out the ridiculous graphics above.

They might say, "Fewer hunters = More tradition."  Meanwhile, the anti-hunters know that "few hunters = a dying tradition."  Only one group can be correct.


Fat Boy said...

Great post RM

Mark Coleman said...

I feel for you guys. No question that not allowing Sunday hunting limits the number of people who'll want to hunt. That's half of the weekend and that's the only time a lot of us have available.

Ren said...

I support Sunday hunting and would myself like to try to hunt someday. I would also have no problem hiking on a hunting day. However, to address one of the Humane Society's talking points, do you think there is any legitimacy to their argument that Sunday hunting would infringe on people's ability to enjoy the outdoors in other ways (by hiking in a wildlife management area, etc)?

Kirk River Mud said...

Ren, in the 43 states that allow full (or nearly full) sunday hunting, there is no significant increase in hunting accidents, particularly those involving non-hunters.

There's a perception that it's not safe, but the data on "firearms incidents" involving hunters simply does not support that sunday hunting has an impact on accident rates. (including in liberal meccas like California and New York who have huge numbers of hikers, rockclimbers, etc).

The data is out there, and it's quite clear.

Tony Haskins said...

I'm still up in the air on this one. You see I have a 16 year old son who loves to hunt even more than I do. So the heritage of hunting is not an issue for me. However I'm also a "church guy", which causes a fork in the road. I totally agree that we need to instill Virginia's heritages to the younger generations but I think we should be aware of all of its founding heritages not just the one we like the most.
We are "dog drivers" which means we do sometimes have to retrieve them on Sunday mornings, but unless I'm reading the laws incorrectly, we are not allowed to carry a firearm onto someone's property without their consent.
As far as giving the woods a break, it's not that for me. I want to give my dogs a break on Sundays, they need it as hard as they run the other six days.
I'm not sure that one more day a week would make a huge difference in the number of hunters either. The amount of huntable land doesn't increase from Saturday to Sunday. There is still the problem of certain hunting clubs throughout the state owning the most and best quality hunting land. For that there is no cure.
If this does one day pass, believe me I Willis's church a time or two to hunt but will be torn by it.

Kirk River Mud said...

Tony thanks for your well thought out comment. I, too, took a long time to come around to it, and I have had the experience of watching it pass here in Maryland (I moved here from VA in 1998). The impact here largely seems to be that more out-of-state hunters (and their kids) are coming in, spending money, hiring guides, etc because they can suddenly do a Sunday morning hunt, then boogie on back to PA, OH, or wherever on Sunday afternoon, and be home by 8pm at the latest.

Personally, VA SH would affect me in that I'd travel back to VA during the season more times per year (now I only bother about once every other year - I have my own leases with SH here in MD). I know many other former Virginians in the same boat - not driving back to the Commonwealth just for a saturday hunt.

About carrying on Sundays while retrieving dogs - one of the houndsmen's favorite legislators sponsored a law (which passed) making it illegal for game wardens to assume you are hunting just because you have a gun in the woods on Sunday. The warden (or police) would need very specific probable cause and physical evidence to ticket you on sunday for carrying while retrieving hounds. That law was written to protect you in that situation. I disagree with it, but it's the law.