The issue of allowing Sunday hunting has surfaced again. Senate Bill 147 sponsored by Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, removing the prohibition, was reported out of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee without benefit of public scrutiny or hearings.
It is unfortunate that opponents to Sunday hunting were not given a chance to present our case to the committee or meet with committee members prior to the vote. We hope that the full Senate will not rush to judgment but will take the time to consider several points.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission appears to be actively supporting an elimination of the restriction on Sunday hunting. Although it knows its purposes best, one reason is clearly financial. The commission is seeking additional revenues. I empathize, since the majority of its revenue comes from hunting license fees; it does not receive money from the General Fund.
In the fiscal year 2019-20 state budget, the Game Commission requests $98.84 million for general operations, a $6.172 million increase from its current budget. The budget document does not describe what the increased funding is for, saying only that the money would “continue present program.”
The additional resources would not be used to hire additional staff, since the staff level is 686 job slots in both the current and next fiscal years. . It is not apparent that the money would go toward additional enforcement of hunting laws, since the proposed budget says that the Game Commission estimates 6,725 violations of game laws in the new fiscal year, the same amount as the current fiscal year.
Here is the most telling statistic. The number of hunting licenses sold is decreasing. In 2013-14, 952,989 licenses were sold. This dropped to 885,564 in 2017-18. The Game Commission estimates the number for the current fiscal year (2018-19) at 867,853. For the proposed budget, the expected number of licenses sold would drop another 7,357.
That is a clear danger sign for the future of the Game Commission and to hunting in the commonwealth. As an avid hunter, I am deeply concerned. The decrease in hunting licenses sold is not just a fluke. The decline is longer-term.
What concerns me as much is that advocates for getting rid of the ban on Sunday hunting may think it is a panacea. They say that Sunday hunting will encourage more father-son hunting forays into the outdoors because Saturdays have been largely taken over by other youth sports. The suggestion is that more hunting licenses will be sold. To the Pennsylvania State Grange, this argument is insufficient.
A better approach would be to take a serious look at why fewer licenses are being sold. Is it a cultural shift away from hunting by millennials? Are guns getting a bad media rap, prompting some to choose other activities? Is the decline and almost elimination of gun safety classes through the schools a factor? After all, if kids are not exposed to the proper way to handle firearms, they may simply not be interested in hunting as sport or recreation. Are other states experiencing the same problem, or is the license decline Pennsylvania-specific?
Instead of eliminating the ban, hunting advocates should be taking a deeper look at preserving the future of hunting in Pennsylvania.
The Sunday prohibition came about for several reasons. One was the fear that Sunday hunting would erode family time or diminish the importance of religion in our society; however, reverence and family values still rank high with many Pennsylvanians. Another was the belief that people enjoying the recreational outdoors should have a day when the fear of being accidently shot doesn’t stop them from fully enjoying the outdoors.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in an assessment and analysis of the outdoor recreation economy in the United Statescredited outdoor recreation for generating 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product in 2016. The top six outdoor recreation activities were boating/fishing, $36.9 billion; game areas such as golfing and tennis, $34.7 billion; RVing, $30 billion; guided tours/outfitted travel, $25.7 billion; and motorcycling/ATVing, $20.3 billion.
Well down the list came hunting, at $13.9 billion.
A non-governmental source, the Outdoor Industry Association, reported a higher number for U.S. retail spending than the government study, $27.4 billion. Humbling to myself as someone who believes in hunting was the revelation that wildlife watching has more of an economic impact than hunting ($30.2 billion vs. $27.4 billion), generated more jobs (235,825 vs.194,973 for hunting), and more state and local taxes ($1.9 billion vs. $1.7 billion).
Pennsylvania should preserve the ban on Sunday hunting and look for other ways to restore hunting’s rightful role in Pennsylvania.