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Senate agriculture committee votes to overturn Sunday hunting ban

Not being able to hunt on Sundays soon may be a thing of the past after a Senate committee approved a bill to permit hunting for animals in season on Sundays on private land.

It also approved several other bills that would lift the ban on hunting on Sundays in the state.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee passed SB 46 on Thursday to permit hunting on Sundays on private land in Virginia.

A companion bill, SB 173, which adopted the “private land” compromise for permitting Sunday hunting, was rolled into another bill in committee.  The vote was 11-4 in favor of passing the compromise.

Proponents and opponents of Sunday hunting descended on the committee hearing, lending the hearing a sometimes emotional, and sometimes entertaining, atmosphere as the speakers described the benefits and disadvantages of Sunday hunting.

Strange bed-fellows emerged:  representatives of the Virginia fox hunting community, animal activists and bird watchers joined with the Farm Bureau to strongly oppose Sunday hunting.

Outdoors groups and civil libertarians argued for it.

“We’ve designated hunting and fishing as a constitutional freedom in Virginia; how can you restrict hunting one day of the week?”  Senator Chap Petersen asked following the committee hearing.

Petersen had previously proposed SB 850 in 2011, which advocated an outright repeal of Sunday hunting.  That bill died in committee last year.  His impetus for that bill had come from the Fairfax County Izaak Walton League which formally endorsed the repeal in 2009 – an endorsement eventually followed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

On Thursday, Sunday hunting gained traction.

Senator Ralph Northam of Accomack said, “It is time for the Commonwealth of Virginia to make a decision that the government should not be telling us, as property owners, what we can do on our property, and when we can do it.”

Governor Bob McDonnell has come out in favor of the repeal, and specifically endorsed Peterson’s version of the bill that emphasizes the rights of property owners to hunt on their own property.

“I think certainly as a property rights issue we should not be telling property owners what they can and can’t do on private property one day a week,” McDonnell said to the Roanoke Times on Thursday.

Pro Sunday hunting organizers agreed with the governor and Petersen; the NRA has come out in support of the bill, and 66 percent of licensed hunters in the Commonwealth of Virginia reportedly support Sunday hunting.

The Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech cited the economic benefits of Sunday hunting, stating that Virginia would expect to gain 3,900 jobs, and an estimated $300 million in potential economic benefit.

The bill is now headed to the full Senate.

Locally, the response to the proposed bill was mixed.

One area hunter, Tim Davis, is a proponent of Sunday hunting.

“That’s the way it should be. It’s ridiculous the way things are now. It’s my God-given right to hunt. I never heard of so many crazy things until I moved to Virginia from Oregon where hunters actually hunt,” Davis said.

A hunter of elk, deer and pig, Davis said he enjoys taking trips away from Virginia to hunt on public land for which his taxes have paid.

However, Alton hunter Butch Dawson and Virgilina hunter Frank Hudson shared a different opinion on whether hunting should be allowed on Sunday.

Dawson, a deer and rabbit hunter, said he’s opposed to Sunday hunting.

“I’m not going to do it if they pass it. Everyone needs one day of rest, and I’m sure the landowners won’t be for it,” he said.

Hudson, a rabbit hunter, said he doesn’t like the idea of Sunday hunting either.

“Sunday is God’s day, and all animals need a day for rest too.”

Halifax County Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Pool, who also is the wife of an avid hunter, said she “personally doesn’t think it’s such a great idea.”

Pool said she has been so busy with the uranium issue that hunting on Sunday hasn’t crossed her mind as head of the chamber.

“I hesitate to make any comment on it at all,” she said.

Farm Bureau President Scott Crowder said the Farm Bureau is opposed to any type of hunting on Sunday.

“I myself believe everything deserves a day of rest including wildlife,” Crowder added.

Del. James Edmunds II said the Sunday hunting bills have caused the most controversy from people in his 60th district.

“I am receiving numerous phone calls, emails and letters from citizens who are primarily opposed to lifting that ban.  Philosophically I am opposed to lifting this ban and will not support that initiative,” he said.