Bills that would allow hunting animals and wild birds on private property and state waters on Sundays are moving through the General Assembly, with the Senate voting 29 to 10 on Monday to approve their bill about a week after the House of Delegates voted 71 to 27 to approve their version.
Both the house and Senate legislation — Senate Bill 154 and House Bill 1237 — would allow hunters to hunt wild birds and animals, including nuisance species, on private property if the hunter has permission from the property owner. That would bring Sunday into line with the other days of the week, when hunting on private property is permitted. Both the House and Senate bills would also prohibit hunting on Sunday within 200 yards of a house of worship and the Sunday hunting of deer with dogs.
“Virginia has such a strong hunting heritage that we thought this would be a great opportunity to attempt to reverse [the fact that hunting license purchases in Virginia have dropped by 50 percent in the last 30 years],” said Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-15), who introduced the house legislation. “Where I live, the high-powered rifle season for deer is only two weeks long. So if you’re a hardworking person, you really only have two Saturdays in which to engage in that activity all year. This would simply give you a couple extra days to enjoy a sport you love and put food on the table.”
The bills would be a boon for hunters, giving them another weekend day to go out and hunt. The proposed changes do not sit well with everyone, including the Virginia Horse Council, a group focused on expanding the equine industry in the state.
“The real issue is: If people move to a rural area and don’t want to hunt, I’d like one day a week where it’s quiet and I can trail ride in the woods without having to worry about a horse being spooked,” said Nancy Paschall, a member of the council’s Board of Directors who rides horses in and around the Historic Triangle. “It’s also hikers, bikers, anybody. It poses a safety hazard if a horse gets spooked. They take off running.”
She said York River State Park, which features more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails, is bounded by private lands where hunting already occurs on days besides Sunday.
A position paper from the council states it is estimated less than 1 percent of state residents are hunters. It says prohibiting hunting on Sunday is an equitable use of the state’s resources on the weekend as horse riders and other outdoor users have curtailed their outdoor activities and adjusted their schedules to enjoy the trails on Sunday.
“The VHC is not opposed to hunting or hunters, but wishes to preserve one day a week for the majority of citizens in the Commonwealth who choose to ride, hike, and bike or otherwise enjoy the outdoors,” the paper reads.
The Virginia Farm Bureau also opposes the legislation. VFB Lobbyist Wilmer Stoneman said lifting the ban will not positively affect the state, as hunters typically choose to hunt on either Saturday or Sunday but not both days.
“We’re not necessarily convinced that the economic boom will happen because hunting seasons are so long,” Stoneman said. “An extra day isn’t really going to bring that much money to the commonwealth.”
In the House, Del. Tommy Wright (R-61), said the majority of the bill’s supporters are not people most affected by the legislation.
“The people that are affected the most don’t have the majority of the votes,” Wright said. “You’re not going to have much hunting going on in Fairfax, Va. You may have people coming from Fairfax into the rural areas that want to hunt, but this is going to affect the rural areas. It’s going to affect hunting and it’s going to affect the Lord’s day.”
Counted among the votes for the Senate bill are yes votes from the Historic Triangle’s John Miller (D-1) and Tommy Norment (R-3). The bill is now being considered by the House of Delegates, where it has been sent to the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. That committee — and later the full House — passed the House version of the bill, with yes votes from the Historic Triangle’s Brenda Pogge (R-96) and Monty Mason (D-93).
An amendment proposed by Del. C. Matthew Fariss (R-59) allowing localities to adopt ordinances prohibiting Sunday hunting was not in the final bill produced by the House. The House bill is now under consideration by the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
Bills have been introduced to the General Assembly in the past seeking to allow Sunday hunting on private lands. A House bill in the 2013 session stalled in the House Committee for Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. A Senate bill in 2012 passed the Senate 29 to 11 only to stall in the same House committee.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries regulates hunting across the state, issuing licenses for hunting and trapping. Residents on private property and some of their family members do not need licenses, however non-family members who have received permission to hunt on the land do need a license. More information on hunting licensing can be found here.
For Historic Triangle residents, passage of one of the bills would open up some new hunting time in certain areas. While the discharge of firearms is prohibited in the City of Williamsburg, hunters in James City and York counties can discharge rifles up to .22 caliber on private property.
Liz Butterfield of the Capital News Service contributed to the reporting in this article.