Norman McLean said, in “A River Runs through It,” that we’re never late for two things in Montana, church and fishing. I’m a bit of a hedonist at heart, so I’m late for church by a couple of decades. What I’m never late for on Sunday in season is a pre-dawn trek to my favorite cathedral to look for the good lord’s finest creation: A big old bull elk.
From a Westerner’s perspective, there’s not much stranger than banning hunting on Sunday. That old-time tradition, still in force in a half a dozen states, is a relic of a different age, like wearing tweeds when fishing, or dressing up for a driven pheasant shoot. I sometimes enjoy those disconnects from the modern world, as I myself am half Luddite myself.
But no hunting on Sunday! C’mon. That’s just, well, puritanical.
The Sunday hunting ban goes back to an era in America when the clergy had a much more pronounced hold over public policy and in some eastern and Midwestern states, that hold appears to be co-opted by certain special interests — like the animal-rights movement, and farmers (politics does indeed make strange bedfellows) who believe that the deer, and their machinery, need a day of rest. But the cynic in me also suspects that some of their motivations aren’t as divinely inspired. To some opponents of Sunday hunting, the ban is designed to ensure that hunters from urban areas (with a full weekend to spend) don’t intrude on the heavenly hunting that many folks in rural areas enjoy on Saturdays.
Several states have tried to lift the ban on Sunday hunting, only to be shot down in cold blood. In Pennsylvania, the fate of hunters and the scientific management of game is being held hostage until the Farm Bureau decides what they think. So on one hand, we have the sporting community (which in PA, is well over 1 million people) squared off against agriculture, animal-rights activists, hikers and horseback riders for their right to hunt on Sunday.
While some states have legitimate concerns regarding public safety, it’s entirely un-American to deny someone the right to hunt a public resource because you want to keep the game for yourself. I would suggest it should be up to state wildlife management agencies to decide where and when hunting is appropriate — with input from stakeholders like landowners and hunters — instead of an arbitrary ban on hunting based off of a religious philosophy over 250 years old.
Especially in a world where my free time is precious, and Sundays and Saturdays are the only days I can hunt without burning a bunch of vacation time. I’m hardly alone; people generally don’t have the luxury of hunting on weekdays. In fact, research indicates that the number one reason people no longer hunt or fish in America is because it’s too difficult to get out and find a place to hunt or fish — it’s about access, to both time and places, which is why Outdoor Life’s Open Country is going to keep the heat on attempts to overturn Sunday-hunting bans.
As McLean said, church and fishing go hand in hand. So does hunting, and it’s high time that we reconnected Sunday with our ability to spend it in the field with a gun or a bow.