Sunday hunting could come to PA as early as this fall

Posted on: June 21, 2019 | Bob Frye | Comments

Sunday hunting is important.

Slowing the decline in hunting, especially among young people, is one of the motivations for legalizing Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures

It seems now not a matter of if but when.

Next week, the state Senate is expected to vote on an amended Senate Bill 147, paving the way for Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania.

The original version called for allowing hunting on 14 Sundays, 10 in fall and four in spring. Sen. Dan Laughlin, the Erie County Republican who authored the legislation, said he will now propose three days of Sunday hunting when it comes up for a vote on the Senate floor.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission would decide which Sundays those are.

That change, Laughlin said, was one of two necessary compromises. The other is the bill raises the crime of trespassing to a primary offense. Those carry stiffer penalties and can be enforced by Commission game wardens.

“Quite frankly, I had to negotiate with some of my members that are big (Pennsylvania) Farm Bureau fans, and the agreement is we’re going to do three,” Laughlin said.

The Farm Bureau has, for decades, opposed legalization of Sunday hunting. That remains the case, said bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.

But, for the first time, he added, “there is the possibility” the group would take a neutral stance if certain conditions are met. Limiting hunting to three Sundays and the trespass changes are two of them, he said.

O’Neill wouldn’t yet say that’s enough.

“We’re withholding our neutrality until we can see what the specific language is in the bill,” O’Neill said.

Laughlin, though, said that’s a formality. He expects the Senate to approve the amended bill before the legislative session ends on June 28.

He also said he has commitments from House of Representatives leadership, as well as the majority and minatory chairmen of the House game and fisheries committee, to move the bill as soon as lawmakers return to session in September.

So with luck, Laughlin said, the bill will go before Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature in September or October at the latest.

“I feel pretty strongly that this is going to make it all the way,” Laughlin said. “I expect it to get signed into law because there’s no further pushback on it.”

Not all agree.

Sunday hunting has its supporters. They’re hailing its anticipated legalization as a step forward for the state’s hunting heritage and economy.

Harold Daub, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists – and formerly director of Hunters United for Sunday hunting – offered a comparison.

Years ago, he said, when the first casinos opened in Atlantic City, Pennsylvanians used to take their money to New Jersey to spend. Lawmakers noticed and opened casinos here to keep a lot of that money home.

It’s the same with Sunday hunting, he said.

In recent years, every state that touches Pennsylvania – Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia – adopted Sunday hunting. That took hunters out of state.

Lawmakers – encouraged by a coalition of 20 statewide sportsmen’s groups — finally came to understand hunters were likewise taking their money elsewhere, he said.

Senate Bill 147, he said, is their way of stopping that.

“So hopefully this is a great example of when Pennsylvania conservationists come together, we get things moving,” Daub said.

“It took way to long to get here. But I’m glad we’re here now. We’ll take this small victory and build from there.”

But opponents remain, too.

Like the Farm Bureau, the Keystone Trails Association – the state’s largest hiker group – traditionally opposed Sunday hunting. It still does, said executive director Joe Neville.

Safety is the primary concern, he said. A lot of hikers are “just not comfortable around hunters, around guns.”

That’s based more on emotion than data, he admitted.

According to the Game Commission, 2018 marked six consecutive years with fewer than 30 hunting accidents – termed hunting-related shooting incidents – across Pennsylvania. There were none at all in the recently-concluded spring gobbler season.

That’s in a state with about 800,000 hunters.

“What people are going to see is that, all of the claims that they can’t go in the woods if they don’t hunt, they can’t go out and enjoy all that, it’s just a fallacy,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Commission.

That’s no matter, Neville said. Statistics don’t make people feel safe.

And, he said, hikers fear that adding three Sundays added to hunting season will, in time, become more.
They see this as a “camel’s nose under the tent kind of thing.”

And they don’t want that, Neville said.

“I don’t think it will stop at three days. This is just going to open the door to further Sunday hunting down the road,” Neville added.

So, he said, the Trails Association will work in the coming months to stop the bill in the House.

Laughlin admitted he’s like to add additional Sundays in time. That’s how other states in the East have done things, expanding opportunities gradually over time.

He believes Pennsylvania would be wise to follow suit.

“What I really expect is, if we get these three through, and we have a year like that, everybody’s going to go, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a big deal.’ And if we want to add a couple more I don’t think anyone’s going to complain,” Laughlin said.

He pointed to hunting license sales this year as evidence of what a positive change Sunday hunting might bring about.

In April, Game Commissioners moved opening day of the statewide firearms deer season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, rather than the Monday after. The idea was to provide colleges students, people just entering the workforce with limited time off and others with the chance to hunt.

Hunting license for the 2019-20 season went on sale June 17. After three days, they were running 25.34 percent ahead of the year before.

Travis Lau, communications director for the commission, said it is difficult to attribute that to any one thing. The commission did a lot more marketing this year than in the past, he noted.

But Laughlin sees that as proof hunters will come back to the sport if the opportunity to do so is there.
Sundays are that opportunity, he said.

“I wasn’t happy negotiating it all the way down to three days,” he said. “But I think this will put a lot more people in the woods, moving the deer around almost like when we were kids. I think it’s going to be good.”

The timing of Sunday hunting

This year or next?

That’s the next question to be answered if and when lawmakers legalize Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission sets hunting seasons. It gives them preliminary approval in each year January, with final approval following in April.

That would seem to rule out Sunday hunting until 2020.

But maybe not.

Sen. Dan Laughlin wants commissioners to try adding at least one Sunday to the hunting calendar this fall. He’s eyeing the one that falls on opening weekend of the statewide firearms deer season.

Commissioners next meet on July 22-23. Laughlin suggested they preliminarily approve that Sunday then and follow up with final approval at their final meeting of the year on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

“That’s a little bit of a long shot, but I’m hoping for it,” Laughlin said.

Whether the commission can in fact do as he wants is “a big question mark,” said executive director Bryan Burhans.

There are two possibilities, though.

The first is the commission might be able to adopt an “anticipatory” regulation adding that Sunday in deer season to the calendar. It would go into effect only if lawmakers do what Laughlin says they will.

The second centers around the notion of an executive order.

The agency’s director can – if inclement weather suppresses harvest of a species – add time to hunting seasons. Previous directors took such action when snow or rain limited the deer kill during three-day doe seasons.

The language in that code also allows the director to add time to seasons when “certain wildlife species are available in sufficient numbers throughout the commonwealth or in specific areas,” Burhans said.

The commission’s legal team is discussing each option with the state Attorney General’s office to see what might be possible. Right now,

Given the choice, Burhans said he’d prefer making changes through board meetings rather than executive order so as to better gather public input.

“We want to make sure whatever we do, we do it right and don’t cause problems down the road,” Burhans said.


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Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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