The Tar Heel State is considering measures that could loosen its 150-year-old prohibition against hunting on Sundays. The ban, enacted in 1869, was the subject of a North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission survey that began circulating the internet on Jan. 17 and culminated on Feb. 2.
By issuing the survey, the commission hoped to gauge support among public land users for either abolishing or maintaining restrictions on Sunday hunting within the state’s two million acres of public game lands.
“We had more than 30,000 people complete the survey,” said Brian McRae, chief of land and water access for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “This is just the beginning of our public input gathering efforts, but it’s encouraging to see how much interest is out there.”
With the survey now complete, the commission will shift its efforts to a series of six public forums where hunters and non-hunters alike will be able to voice their opinions about the current Sunday hunting restrictions.
As the law is currently written, Sunday hunting is only permitted on private land, and it must take place outside the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Luke Weingarten is the chairman of the North Carolina Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, one of the groups pushing to lift the ban. While Weingarten and BHA support the complete abolishment of Sunday hunting bans wherever they exist, that’s not exactly what’s on the table in North Carolina right now.
“We’re not going to see unfettered access yet,” Weingarten said. “The Wildlife Resources Commission is shackled in what it can do, but we can at least hope for Sunday hunting laws on our public lands that mirror the more relaxed laws already in place on private.”
These changes would allow for some Sunday hunting on public land but would still prohibit hunting between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., waterfowl hunting, hunting deer with dogs, and hunting within 500 yards of a place of worship. Any further changes would require action by the state legislature.
While largely unheard of in the West, laws that prohibit hunting on Sundays are more common in the eastern United States. Often referred to as “blue laws,” these statues harken back to an era when religious observation of the Sabbath was folded into all sorts of municipal and state codes across the country.
It’s mind-boggling to some hunters, when considered in a modern context, that these types of laws could still exist today, but they do, and not just in North Carolina. As of this writing there are 11 states with some form of blue law-style hunting prohibition still on the books.
In some blue law states, the scope of Sunday hunting bans has begun to wane in the face of mounting public pressure. On Jan. 25, 2019, for example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission gave preliminary approval to legislation that would allow hunting on three Sundays throughout the month of November.
While many North Carolina hunters want to see public game lands opened to all Sunday hunting, there are some, even within the hunting community itself, who seek to maintain the status quo.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons driving North Carolina hunters to support restrictions on their own access to public land and Sunday hunting. Survey data collected in 2018 shows 11% of respondents who cite religious convictions as well as a strong contingent of people who believe that game animals on public land need a day of rest from hunting pressure.
Unsurprisingly, there is opposition coming from North Carolinians outside of the hunting community, as well. Most non-hunting public land users who oppose Sunday hunting list potential conflicts with hunters, a diminished outdoor experience, and safety concerns as their primary motivations for continued opposition.
Despite the opposition, Weingarten is optimistic for the future of Sunday hunting in his home state of North Carolina.
“The opposition is there, but it’s definitely not insurmountable,” he said. “We’ll have to take it in stride and work with reforms as they come, but we have been moving in a positive direction on this issue since 2009.”
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission will host six public forums across the state throughout the month of February. Anyone with an interest in the Sunday hunting issue is encouraged to attend.
“If all goes well, we could be looking at new public hunting laws on North Carolina public lands as early as August of 2021,” Weingarten said.
Feature image via Captured Creative.