by Ed Lawrence, KTA Trail Care Chair
Outdoor recreational activities have never been more popular. Pennsylvanians are getting outside in record numbers to enjoy a wide variety of sports and hobbies. Families have discovered geo-caching and are day hiking our state parks, people are trail running, setting up tripods for nature photography, mountain biking, paddling kayaks, backpacking in our state forests, bird and wildlife watching and taking advantage of designated equestrian trails.
There is a notable exception to this trend however, the number of active hunters continues to show a slow, but steady decline, year after year across the state. I don't begrudge hunters their sport or their time in the woods, in fact we rent our acreage out to a local hunting club. However, at the same time, I think that hunters need to recognize and acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of outdoor recreationists are not hunting, and that these folks look forward to Sundays, during hunting seasons, as the one day of the week that they can pursue their chosen passion without having to worry about 'user conflicts' or accidently getting shot.
Up to this point, splitting the weekend between hunting on Saturdays and everyone else doing their favorite outdoor activities on Sunday has been a compromise that has generally worked. This year though, the NRA has decided to push Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania as a legislative priority. This comes on the heels of the Game Commission, under pressure from the NRA, giving initial approval for hunters to start using semi-automatic rifles, despite the reported lack of support among many hunters for such a change. This decision will be officially approved at the Commission's April meeting, unless there is sufficient pushback from Pennsylvania hunters who still believe that their sport has something to do with a sense of sportsmanship and not just an arms race to see how fast you can fire off 6 rounds at a fleeing buck. Public comments regarding this proposed change can be sent to the Game Commission at: email@example.com .
Before our legislators embrace Sunday hunting at an NRA sponsored shotgun wedding, they should consider the impact it will have on the vast majority of their constituents. Consider, for example, Ricketts Glen State Park (my local go-to hiking destination), which comprises 13,050 acres and includes 26 miles of hiking trails, described in the park brochure as a 'prime attraction to the park'. Will visitors be surprised to learn that 10,144 of those park acres are open to hunting, meaning that there may be semi-automatic weapon fire across over half of these hiking trails? Will that make more than 75% of the park a seven days a week "no-go zone" for most families?
The unintended consequences of lifting the current ban on Sunday hunting may actually end up backfiring on hunters as well. If Sunday hunting becomes the new normal then that will open the flood gate for all the other outdoor recreationists to come out on Saturdays. Hunters may be surprised to see just how many other folks enjoy being out in the woods without a rifle, or they may end up hearing them first, once hikers and bikers and families start wearing jangling "hunter bells" for safety.
This is really an issue of fairness and the equitable sharing of the resources of time and terrain. If you think that Sunday hunting is not really such a good idea, let your state legislators in Harrisburg know. They've already heard from the NRA.