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Group to make its case for Sunday hunting this weekend at Penn State New Kensington |

Group to make its case for Sunday hunting this weekend at Penn State New Kensington

Mary Ann Thomas

Allowing hunting on Sundays garnered some support in the past before fizzling and dying in the state Legislature.

With a Senate committee’s recent passage of another Sunday hunting bill, the battle is on again, pitting hunting groups against farmers and even other outdoors enthusiasts.

The state Senate Game and Fisheries Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow limited Sunday hunting. The bill must go to the full Senate for a vote and then to the state House for approval before being sent to Gov. Tom Wolf.

Usually, it doesn’t make it past the full Senate.

But a grassroots group hopes to change that this time. Hunters United for Sunday Hunting (HUSH), which formed in March 2018, is hosting a public presentation “It’s About Time” from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Penn State New Kensington, 3550 Seventh Street Road, Upper Burrell.

The group is bringing in some heavy hitters, including state Sen. Don Laughlin, R-Erie, chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, who introduced the recent legislation; Committee Minority Chairman, Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport; and Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.

“What is different this time is the grassroots efforts to fight to have the proper authorities making wildlife management decisions,” said Harold Daub, HUSH executive director, who lives near Harrisburg.

This year’s legislation calls not just for hunting on some Sundays, but transferring the decision-making process for which days are open for hunting from the General Assembly to the Game Commission.

Currently, state law makes the Legislature solely responsible for deciding which days of the week can be used for hunting.

And that’s the way some people want it.

Joe Neville, executive director of the Keystone Trails Association, a group representing trail owners, users and conservation groups, says his members oppose transferring that authority to the Game Commission.

“The General Assembly, they are accountable to all of us,” Neville said. “(The Game Commission), their board is 100 percent hunters and they make all of their money primarily from hunters.”

What’s not different this year is opposition from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, representing 62,000 farmers and historically considered the strongest dissenter.

The organization has long resisted the measure because a lot of farmers don’t want hunters on or near their properties on Sundays — and they aren’t shy about visiting state lawmakers to tell them so.

“A lot of farmers look at it as their land,” said Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.

“Sunday is the one day when they do take off from work and spend time on the farm. They don’t want to be disturbed by people knocking on their door wanting to hunt, which they are required to do, or hearing gunshots ringing around their property.”

Additionally, farmers provide free access to their property six days a week, O’Neill said.

“They feel they don’t think it unreasonable that Sunday is a day for recreation on their own property, riding horses, ATVs, and other activities without worrying about running into hunters.”

Trail users including runners, hikers, mountain bikers and others also want a day in the woods when they don’t fear running afoul of hunters or other safety issues, according to Neville.

“Nothing has changed over 20 to 30 years about how these folks felt and still do,” said Neville. “It’s been an ongoing issue forever.”

But supporters of Sunday hunting point out that the measure under consideration doesn’t open every Sunday to hunting and they feel it’s necessary to secure the future not just of hunting but of conservation in general.

The goal is to offer up more days to hunt as an inducement to attract younger hunters needed to bolster the thinning ranks of baby boomers, who are aging out of the sport.

“If we can bring more time to the table to attract more younger hunters,” said Daub, “it optimizes the number of hunting licenses we can sell. It’s the hunters who pay for habitat and conservation.”

Much of the money raised for wildlife and game animal management in Pennsylvania comes from additional sales taxes charged on guns, ammunition and other hunting and fishing gear. The Game Commission does not get funding from any other state taxes. The rest of the commission’s revenue comes from license sales and the leasing of mineral rights on state game lands.

Supporters stress the proposal would allow hunting only on a limited number of Sundays each year. Specifically, only 14 Sundays would see hunting. All would be tied to existing hunting seasons. Under the proposal, the Game Commission would decide which Sundays would be affected, according to Matthew D. Azeles, chief of staff for Laughlin.

Azeles said Laughlin will lobby for Sundays that would be most impactful, such as during spring turkey season, archery deer season, archery bear season and rifle deer season, according to Azeles. But the Game Commission would take public comment before deciding.

Another twist this year: the farmers might be willing to compromise.

The Farm Bureau, at its October meeting, passed a resolution promising to neither fight nor support Sunday hunting if the state agrees to a set of limitations, including only approving Sunday hunting for antlerless deer and woodchucks. For antlerless deer those Sundays must only be the first Sundays in the archery, flintlock muzzleloader and rifle seasons.

The resolution contains a number of other limitations the Farm Bureau insists would have to be followed to prevent their opposition to Sunday hunting.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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