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Will suit overturn ban on Sunday hunting?

  • Many deer hunters from Pennsylvania spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year traveling to New York State because of the opportunity to hunt on Sundays.
    Many deer hunters from Pennsylvania spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year traveling to New York State because of the opportunity to hunt on Sundays.
Published August 31. 2013 09:00AM

Pennsylvania hunters who travel out of state to pursue deer, bear or turkey know that all of our neighboring states now allows some form of hunting on Sundays. In fact, Pennsylvania is one of just 11 states in the nation that has no Sunday hunting for major game species.

As a result a federal lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania Game Commission by the nonprofit organization Hunters United for Sunday Hunting means that restriction may now very well change in the not-too-distant future. Filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg by Attn. Peter J. Russo, the suit looks to overturn the longstanding state Blue Law banning Sunday hunting on the grounds that it violates Constitutional rights, specifically those of the First, Second and 14th Amendments.

Among the issues the HUSH lawsuit raises are that certain species such as crows, foxes, coyotes and feral hogs can already be legally hunted on Sundays, which creates two classes of hunters those who can and those who cannot hunt. It also states that prohibiting Sunday hunting results in irreparable loss of hunting opportunities, since most people work Monday through Friday, and that limiting Pennsylvanians' right to hunt and bear arms are arbitrary and without purpose.

"Hunters should be treated the same as any other citizen, and it all comes down to a matter of fairness," HUSH director Kathy Davis, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said. "People participate in any other lawful activity any day of the week, and hunting should be no different."

What makes this lawsuit interesting is that HUSH has to sue an agency that actually supports Sunday hunting because it is illegal sue the one body that has the authority to change the law the state Legislature. In 2010, the PGC board of game commissioners passed a resolution urging the General Assembly to repeal the ban on Sunday hunting, but as the regulatory agency it must be named in the suit.

By law, the PGC lacks the authority to lift the prohibition on Sunday hunting. All exceptions allowing for certain species to be hunted on Sunday were put into place by the Legislature.

Josh First is a HUSH advisor and is also a plaintiff in the suit and said it did not want to sue the PGC, but had no alternative because there were no other avenues available to them. In past years, efforts to overturn the Sunday hunting ban through Legislative channels have gone nowhere, including 2010-11, the last time the issue was examined, when opposition from various groups resulted in the death of a bill introduced by State Rep. John Evans.

"The Legislature is deadlocked on this issue and if you can't get the state Legislature to act then you have to go to the courts - there's no other way to address it," First said. "I've been working on this issue for approximately five years.

"I never thought that we'd actually file a lawsuit. I really thought that the legislature would come up with some Legislative prescription, even if it just gave the Game Commission the ability to allow Sunday hunting."

Since its filing, the HUSH lawsuit has attracted the interest of hunters and sportsmen's groups throughout the state. Pennsylvania 's largest sportsmen's organization, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, has not taken a position on the suit, but PFSC spokesperson Melody Schell said it supports the PGC being the entity responsible for setting hunting seasons and bag limits, which should include whether or not Sunday hunting is permitted.

"We believe, as with all wildlife management issues, it should be a regulatory issue based on sound wildlife management decisions, not a Legislative issue based on political whims and personal agendas," Schell said.

For Davis and First, the Sunday hunting issue all comes down to respecting and preserving the rights of sportsmen and gun owners and creating another opportunity to get people involved in the outdoors. Both believe that one of the reasons fewer young people are hunting is they do not have enough time.

More information about HUSH is available on its Facebook page and website at Donations can be mailed to HUSH at Box 255, Lititz , Pa. 17543 .

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