For the first time since 1869, public lands will be open to hunting on Sundays in North Carolina.
The Tar Heel State had been one of four states with outright hunting bans on Sunday, but that ends on Aug. 1, 2021.
One hundred forty years after the 1869 “blue law” banned hunting on the Sabbath, the state began to revise the outdated policy. Starting in 2009 the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission altered rules to allow Sunday hunting opportunities in the state. However, these improvements only included private lands.
This recent revision officially approved on March 10, 2021, opened up about 1.6 million acres of public land for Sunday hunting. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers North Carolina Chapter Chair Luke Weingarten spoke with MeatEater about the exciting new policy.
“What it looks like on the East Coast, with how population-dense and privatized it is, North Carolina is actually sitting in a decent position with public access. But that makes the fight and advocacy for public lands all the more relevant and pressing,” Weingarten said.
“It was no public access whatsoever on Sundays,” he continued. “For some, that’s all the access they have. If you’re not wealthy enough or connected enough, you’ve got nothing. In terms of equity in America, it’s just not fair.”
BHA established itself in North Carolina in 2018. The members, along with many other user groups, were well aware the current Sunday hunting policy was long overdue for amending. NCWRC began collecting public opinion data through surveys and holding open forums regarding the issue.
Modifying a 140-year-old law comes with pushback. Some people simply didn’t want to change the way things have always been. Others had concerns for wildlife needing a day off from hunting pressure. Still more folks claimed Sunday to be the “one safe day they get.”
“If you could show me the data where during hunting season, non-hunters keep getting shot and injured by hunters, I’m sorry but it just doesn’t exist. It’s not a safety issue, it’s a perception-of-safety issue,” Weingarten said.
Likewise, data does not support the idea that wildlife need a day off. Look at all the states that follow sound wildlife management without blue laws in place. In order to address these opposing views, Weingarten said the best action was to meet those people face-to-face with a handshake and a smile.
“I am incredibly proud of and humbled by BHA membership in North Carolina,” he said. “Our members filled out surveys, spoke with friends and family, and showed up at every public meeting across the state sporting a smile and their Public Land Owner T-shirts. With knowledge and respect, BHAers stood to be counted—they made their voices heard and they made a difference.”
The Outdoor Heritage Act of 2015 lifted the absolute prohibition of hunting on Sunday with firearms and also gave the wildlife commission authority to alter the statute. According to the Feb. 25 meeting agenda, their approval for the recent rule change was based on seven in-person public meetings, two virtual public meetings, three focus group meetings with stakeholders, an agency staff retreat, discussions with landowning partners, biological staff, and commissioners, and a follow up meeting with stakeholders.
“We did go through a pretty extensive public input process, and through that we heard some common themes. First off, we got away from an all-or-nothing approach in terms of yes—Sunday hunting everywhere or no—don’t want it anywhere,” Brian McRae, chief of land and water access for NCWRC, told MeatEater.
The common themes that emerged from the process include that regulations should be simple, easy, and understandable. It was also a priority to not do anything that would cause harm or damage to resources. When choosing what lands would be appropriate for Sunday hunting, NCWRC wanted to focus on rural lands and consider the proximity of lands to other game areas and access points. Special focus was placed on areas with unique values for specific user groups as well as game lands that had past conflicts with hunting.
NCWRC took these themes and created a “decision matrix.” All 92 game lands were essentially given a score in one of three categories: feasible for Sunday hunting, not feasible, and a middle category of feasible with compromise.
“The game land manager biologists from each area walked through every game land area they were responsible for, how and why it ranked, and the group deliberated if it was an appropriate area for Sunday hunting.” McRae said. “We’ve gotten some very positive feedback on the process from those who have been involved, from commissioners and stakeholders. I would like to thank the public and our partners for all their work on this. This is the biggest team effort I’ve ever been a part of and I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Compromise was key to success in passing this ruling, meaning that the Sunday hunting restrictions previously placed on private property will also be mandated on public lands. These restrictions include:
Any further alteration or removal of these rules will require further public input and debate, one step at a time.
“While we still have a ways to go on Sunday hunting in North Carolina, NC BHA wholeheartedly commends the WRC for their diligent and thoughtful work,” Weingarten concluded. “The new rules adopted for the 2021-2022 season are a significant step forward and are a tremendous win for access and opportunity in our state. For some, this rule change functionally doubles their time in the woods, and for many others it significantly enhances their opportunity to pass on our hunting heritage to current and future generations.”
Land Tawney, president and CEO of BHA, addressed this win for North Carolinians.
“Action matters. Leadership matters. Individuals matter. Efforts to permit hunting on Sundays have a long history, but the efforts by rank-and-file sportsmen and women, including BHA members, are finding success and gaining momentum,” Tawney told MeatEater. “In 2019, hunters secured a major win in the Keystone State with a repeal of the all-out ban on Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania. Our most recent victory in North Carolina bodes well for others trying to expand opportunity in states like Virginia and South Carolina.”