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: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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.
3/1/2017 07:24:47 am
"[T]he number of active hunters continues to show a slow, but steady decline, year after year across the state."
3/1/2017 08:59:03 am
While I respect the author's opinion, it is emotional grandstanding intended to provoke fear with disregard for facts and more importantly, compromise. Guns provoke fear, and I can certainly empathize with that. I was raised a hunter and it is completely engrained in my DNA. It is who I am. In my early adult years I became interested in recreational hiking and became a KTA member directly as a result of hunting, after my hunting pursuits led me to backpacking.
3/1/2017 07:26:51 pm
Just need to comment on one previous post- there are absolutely no lands anywhere in Pennsylvania that are 100% funded by the PA Game Commission when tax burden is also taken into account. By my employment in a public school district business office I see firsthand the tiny amount of real estate taxes that are paid by the PA Game Commission on their lands. This is controlled by state law rather than normal tax assessment and the net result is that all taxpayers are in a sense subsidizing PA Game Lands.
3/12/2017 01:33:03 pm
The Pittman-Robertson Act created a funding mechanism for State Game Lands (SGLs), called Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in many other states, by imposing an excise tax on hunting equipment (rifles and archery equipment), handguns, and ammunition. This excise tax was imposed beginning in the 1930s. States are reimbursed 75% of the costs for both management and purchase of land for SGL's/WMA's from the proceeds of the excise tax with the balance raised from other sources, usually hunting license fees. It is estimated that there are some 300 million handguns in the US. Since handguns are largely useless for hunting, a great deal of the excise taxes on the handguns and their ammunition are paid not by hunters but by other citizens. It is incorrect to assert that hunters pay for SGLs.
3/13/2017 09:13:36 am
So you're saying that hunters don't own handguns? That's funny because I own a few and pretty much every other hunter that I know owns at least 1 or more. If there is 300 million handguns then how many hunting rifles and shotguns are there? 500Million? 800 million? 2 billion? Aren't those included in the tax as well?
3/15/2017 04:42:42 pm
In his comment J R Minich makes the statement that Game Lands are "100% funded by the PA Game Commission and hunting licenses", and that non-hunters have "zero dollars invested in these lands". There are, however, some Game Lands and parts of Game Lands where the land was originally purchased by Land Conservancy organizations and then deeded over to the game Commission for their management. The Keystone Trails Association, in fact, led the campaign to keep the 1000 Steps portion of the Link Trail, now known as the Standing Stone Trail, in public ownership when it came up for sale. Thanks to the efforts and monetary contributions of the hiking community that tract of land is now part of SGL #112. No grandstanding there, but certainly a challenging climb with a great view that benefits everyone.
3/2/2017 06:03:15 pm
I would like to echo what JR has stated. I too love to both hike AND hunt. I have just recently became aware of this organization and you seem to do very good work. However, I cannot bring myself to join or support your organization(although I may like to) due to this stance against Sunday hunting. The authors attitude towards hunting is clearly negative (although he admittedly profits from it) and further tarnishes my impression of this organization. I reject the author's snarky assumptions that hunting is unsafe and that a "arms race" is taking place. As JR has stated, hunting for certain species is already permitted on Sunday, and many other popular hunting seasons take place throughout many months of the year with most hikers being none the wiser. The fact of the matter is that there is not, and has not been, any significant number of hunter/hiker conflicts at any time in recent history.
FYI - a few examples of why some hikers are nervous:
3/18/2017 11:16:53 am
Hunters pay for the SGLs. They ought to have priority for use, and having only one day a week in hunting season (most people work weekdays), is one reason for the decline - many hunters just don't see it as worthwhile.
6/4/2019 01:04:39 pm
Been a lot of talk about fairness and access. Hunters have full access to state forests.
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