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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Day of Rest—for People and Animals

Much has changed in some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states since Colonial times, but one thing has remained the same for centuries: It has been unlawful to hunt animals on Sundays.

Hikers Although the Sunday hunting prohibition has its roots in 18th-century blue laws, the policy now has a much more relevant and timely rationale: It provides a balancing of interests between hunters, who can hunt six days a week, and the much larger population of non-hunters who have their own claims to nature’s beauty and bounty. Citizens who enjoy the outdoors—hikers, campers, bird watchers, dog walkers, horseback riders, and others—have one day a week when they know they will be safe in the woods and not harmed by a stray bullet or arrow.

This may change, as state lawmakers are now considering a number of bills to allow Sunday hunting. Yesterday, the Joint Environment Committee of the Connecticut legislature approved a bill to allow bowhunting on Sundays, and the full New Jersey Assembly passed a Sunday bowhunting bill and sent it to Gov. Jon Corzine for his signature. Maine, Massachusetts, and North Carolina are considering similar proposals. These ill-conceived and shortsighted measures should all be shot down, no matter what day of the week.

One of the most compelling arguments for maintaining the current ban on Sunday hunting is that it eases some of the tension between hunters and other land users and property owners. Deer hunting season lasts for more than a third of the year, not to mention other species hunted year-round, and non-hunters can count on one day of rest during that time. They know that Sunday is the one day a week when they can enjoy the outdoors—even their own property—without dressing their kids and pets in blaze orange and worrying about their safety.

Even if Sunday hunting is restricted to private lands, which is the case with Connecticut’s bill, arrows and bullets know no boundaries and don’t stop at property lines. A hunter’s carelessness can injure non-participants and damage private property. In Pennsylvania, for example, a hunter shot a pregnant woman sitting in her car in her driveway nearly a mile away. In Virginia, a hunter’s bullet lodged itself in a bookshelf in a girl’s bedroom. And in Maine, a hunter shot and killed a young woman while she was tending a horse on her own property.

Moreover, domestic animals, such as dogs and horses, are sometimes mistaken for game animals. Expanding recreational opportunities for hunters will hold families hostage inside their homes on Sundays. A benefit for hunters is a loss for horseback riders, hikers, boaters, and others, creating even greater conflicts among outdoor user groups.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service there are 40,000 licensed hunters in Connecticut, and 86,000 hunters in New Jersey, representing just over 1 percent of residents in each state. People who participate in wildlife watching outnumber hunters by 28-to-1 in Connecticut (1,102,000 residents) and 18-to-1 in New Jersey (1,537,000 residents). While hunters spend $69 million annually on their activity in Connecticut and $137 million in New Jersey, wildlife watchers outspend them multiple times over, generating $510 million in Connecticut and $537 million in New Jersey for the state economy each year. Forcing these people to stay home on Sundays is not only unfair, but also fiscally irresponsible.

Doe_fawns In addition, Sunday hunting is no magic bullet for deer management problems. Without Sundays, hunters already have well over 100 days of deer hunting each year in both Connecticut and New Jersey—a combination of bowhunting, muzzleloader, shotgun, and rifle seasons for more than four months straight. Farmers can obtain deer depredation permits to kill deer throughout the entire year. Adding a few extra Sundays of recreational hunting to the mix will not reduce deer populations in any meaningful way. 

Even if the legislation is limited to bowhunting, the use of primitive archery equipment is one of the most inhumane and inefficient ways to kill an animal. Archers routinely spend hours tracking the blood trails of deer struck by arrows before the animals finally bleed to death. Three decades of research tell us that bowhunting has about a 50 percent crippling rate—for every deer struck by arrows and retrieved by bowhunters, another wounded deer is crippled and disappears, to die slowly. Wounding and crippling animals is no way to address wildlife conflicts. What’s more, in today’s New York Times, a Bronx woman was reported recovering from being shot in the abdomen with a 30-inch-long, all-carbon arrow when dropping off a friend at a nursing home in Riverdale.

It’s not just animal advocates who oppose Sunday hunting, and a slew of newspaper editorials along the East Coast have make the case for retaining the current prohibitions. The Hartford Courant said, “With state officials campaigning to get more families outside to enjoy Connecticut’s beautiful vistas and woodlands, legislative action to expand hunting to Sundays is out of step.” The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel opined, “One-seventh of the week is not too much to ask for those who want to go outside during hunting season.” And the Winston-Salem Journal stated that in addition to hunters’ rights, “the rights of rural residents who are not hunters must also be protected. They have a right to peace and quiet one day of the week, and they should retain that right.”

In short, there is no compelling reason to change a public policy that has been in place for centuries. Gov. Corzine should veto S. 802 in New Jersey, and lawmakers in Connecticut and other states should shoot down their respective bills and preserve the Sunday hunting bans. Surely one day of peace a week during hunting season for people and animals is not too much to ask.

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