PA Suit Challenges Sunday Hunting Ban


In the state of Pennsylvania, there is a ban on many forms of hunting on Sundays and a group of hunters are now challenging that law in federal court. They argue that the law violates the First, Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution as well as the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, a Lancaster County-based sportsmen’s group, has filed suit in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg, seeking to have the ban voided on grounds that it is unconstitutional….

HUSH contends that the long-standing Sunday hunting ban violates federal and state protections of the right to bear arms and freedom of religion. Also, the group is claiming that the ban illegally creates two classes of hunters – the few who can hunt on Sundays by special provision and the vast majority who cannot.

And since the state’s so-called Blue Laws that once barred most businesses from operating on Sundays were abolished years ago, there is no longer any rationale for the hunting ban to continue, HUSH contends in its suit…

The ban, which dates back decades, bars most hunting for large and small game on Sundays. However, feral swine, crows, foxes and coyotes may be hunted on Sundays, and farmers may kill deer and elk at any time on their own land if the animals are damaging their crops or property.

I’m a bit bothered by the claims in regard to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law forbids the government from placing an “undue burden” on a person’s religious freedom without demonstrating that it is using the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling state interest. But why is religion singled out for such treatment? An atheist hunter who wants to hunt on Sundays has no grounds under this law to bring such a suit because non-religious motivations are considered less important than religious ones under RFRA. But they should win this suit on other grounds. You can read the complaint here.

Comments

  1. Mr Ed says

    We have a similar ban in Connecticut that was put into effect about ten or fifteen years ago. The rationale behind it was that one day a week people should be able to enjoy other outdoor activities without the fear of running afoul of hunters.

    I hike and trail run so I have a whole fall wardrobe of orange clothing. I never thought of this as a blue law, just see it as resource management.

  2. matty1 says

    I’m inclined to agree on the RFRA, there should be a presumption of liberty. That is any law or government action should not affect the ability of individuals to do anything they want unless it is ‘the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling state interest’. If there is such an interest and the law is the least restrictive way of achieving it then religion should be no excuse.

    Of course I’m left wing enough to think that there is a compelling state interest in all sorts of things others might object to like universal access to medical treatment and encouraging mobility between economic classes but the principle should be broadly acceptable.

  3. Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare says

    Another reason to continue the “NO Sunday Hunting” policy is PA is to ease some of the pressure on the resource. PA has lots of hunters, and the deer really get hammered here.

  4. DaveL says

    The rationale behind it was that one day a week people should be able to enjoy other outdoor activities without the fear of running afoul of hunters.

    That’s a pretty poor rationale when it comes to private land, whose use wouldn’t have to be time-shared by the government between users with conflicting interests the way public land might be.

    There are other points of incongruity: the ban doesn’t cover all species, and regular hunting seasons already greatly restrict the time available to hunters (regular firearm deer season is what, 20 days of the year?)

  5. psweet says

    If hunting quotas are properly set, there shouldn’t be a need for a Sunday break. (If there is, you could shorten the season by a week and achieve the same result.)

  6. DaveL says

    Another reason to continue the “NO Sunday Hunting” policy is PA is to ease some of the pressure on the resource. PA has lots of hunters, and the deer really get hammered here.

    Another rather questionable rationale. Why not just shorten the season? Tighten restrictions on what constitutes a legal deer? Close a few areas of public land previously open to hunters? These are the standard practices used in other states, even those which have very high numbers of hunters, such as Michigan.

  7. Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare says

    Hey, this is, after all, PA–the state that tried to stock prairie grouse in the woods.

  8. says

    DaveL “Another rather questionable rationale. Why not just shorten the season?”
    My plan is better; arm the deer.
     
    “Tighten restrictions on what constitutes a legal deer?”
    Now you’re just being ridiculous. I mean, good luck getting bouncers to check their ID before letting them in.

  9. cry4turtles says

    I’m torn on this one. My husband’s an avid hunter, filling the freezer every fall with the only meat I eat (venison, beef is waxy and bland). But I grew up in the saddle, and fall is my favorite riding season (dry, cool, less bugs). Sunday are the only days I feel safe on the trail. I work 5-6 days a week. Sometimes Sunday is all I have. Don’t know what I would do without them.

  10. mucklededun says

    In addition to arming the deer, I think any hunter who did not
    bag his limit should be allowed to take a dead deer away from
    any more fortunate Nimrod, at the point of a gun, if necessary.

  11. kimbeaux says

    @Modusoperandi(12) & @mucklededun(14)

    I believe you two are confused. Our constitutional right is to arm bears, not deer.

  12. Karen Locke says

    Wow, @cry4turtles, you only feel safe on the trail if there are no hunters? That sounds like there’s some pretty poor resource management and/or lack of mandatory training for hunters. I’ve never felt unsafe hiking during hunting season in the Eastern Sierra Nevada (California), though I do wear orange. And the place is crawling with hunters during deer season.

  13. JustaTech says

    DaveL @8: As someone who grew up just over the border in Maryland, the issue with hunting on private land is that it tends to be surrounded by other private land, often with houses, children and pets. We had an incident on my suburban/rural street of some idiot shooting a deer (and only wounding it) and *then* noticing that it was standing next to a swing set in someone’s back yard.

    On the other hand, a Sunday ban doesn’t protect you the other 6 days a week, so yes, it is silly.

  14. DaveL says

    @19 – I can’t find any results for this “Informed Sportsmen of Pennsylvania”, the group purportedly responsible for this flyer, in a web search. That’s a little suspect, especially since that flyer throws around the term “extremist” and its cognates with wild abandon, supporting its characterization with the opinions of a lot of anonymous people but few details.

  15. Donnie says

    @19: Really, the founding members of H.U.S.H are also people who have environment backgrounds, dealing with game management? Wow….shocker! Now, please tell us how the policy of preventing hunting on Sundays has a legal barring? Can the state of PA prevent hunting on Sundays like it did with its Blue Laws?

    Why would an “evironextremist” want to allow MORE killing of animals? Doesn’t that sound a little contradictory????

    Now, how to you efffectively manage mulitple uses of public land so that people do not have to worry about being shot by “hammered hunters” (pun from above comment)…..No hunting on the 1st Sunday of the month during hunting season?

  16. Scientismist says

    Obvious solution: No hunting with firearms for anything on Saturday. For the sake of human hikers. Even better, Saturday AND Sunday.

    I have never gone hunting, but I used to hike a lot; but never during hunting season. My dad told me about the last time he went hunting (sometime in the 1930’s). He was sitting quietly on a stump near a game trail, waiting for deer, when somebody came crashing along noisily, and struck up a conversation. The noisy guy said he hadn’t seen any deer (no surprise there), but had taken a few brush shots. My dad asked what that meant. Guy said it was when you hear something in the brush and take a blind shot at it. As I said, that was the last time my dad went hunting.

  17. whheydt says

    Re: RFRA:
    An observant Jew (or SDA, if he hunted) with a Monday to Friday job would have a problem finding time to legally hunt for religious reasons.

    Re: mucklededun @ #14:
    You have been loonytuned. While Bugs Bunny used “Nimrod” as a insult on Elmer when Elmer was hunting, the Biblical original was “a mighty hunter”. Technically calling a hunter a “Nimrod” should be a compliment.

  18. sailor1031 says

    Seems to me the rationale of HUSH could be used to do away with all game laws. If there’s a second amendment right to hunt (which I don’t believe) then no restrictions either in form of seasons, bag limits, public hunting locations (such as national forests, which here in Virginia are just too damned dangerous to hike in deer season except on sundays), game species, license rules and fees or anything else can be upheld. Wouldn’t this rather be one of those many things left to the states?

  19. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    “Another reason to continue the “NO Sunday Hunting” policy is PA is to ease some of the pressure on the resource. PA has lots of hunters, and the deer really get hammered here.”

    I thought PA had too many deer for the healthg of the herds?

  20. cry4turtles says

    @#16. Yes, it’s regular practice among PA riders to stay out of the woods during hunting season (2 weeks in November), except on Sunday. In fact, most people I know leave their horses in the barn the first 2-4 days. With muzzleloader factored in there is 3 months of hunting activity here. To go into gamelands (my trek) unawares is foolish. Not all hunters are safety minded.

  21. DaveL says

    @26

    Do you know of any actual cases of riders or their mounts being injured by hunters? Not all fears that are widespread are reasonable.

  22. says

    There is a federal reservation on Plum Island, MA that is the sometime home of a number of deer which swim the short distance from Plum Island to the mainland (Ipswich and its environs) to take advantage of the seasonal crop of beach roses, milder weather, etc.. People have fed them for years. As a result of being fed and not being hunted, the group became more numerous than it might have without those factors (and others) and a number of the deer were diseased. They also carried a LOT of ticks (who are the vector for Lyme’s Disease). The state hired “cullers” (snipers, actually) who shot about half the deer. Nobody was happy about it, it seems to have helped. That’s about as much wildlife management as I want.

    I think deer hunting should be done with the tools available at the time of the FOUNDING; flintlocks, simple bows and flint arrowheads and pointy sticks.

  23. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    I think deer hunting should be done with the tools available at the time of the FOUNDING; flintlocks, simple bows and flint arrowheads and pointy sticks.

    I hunt for meat where my highest two priorities are:
    1) don’t endanger anything but my target and then only when ready to shoot and,
    2) don’t shoot unless I have 80% confidence I’ll kill my target with one shot.

    I’m happy to say I’ve never yet had to shoot twice, in fact no deer has ever run more than a couple of dozen yards after I hit it. And I’m not a great shot, I’m OK but not great; I simply don’t shoot unless the shot is feasible for my skill level and the conditions.

    I’ve helped more reckless hunters find and take down deer they wounded. Those episodes reinforce the obligation to use equipment which minimizes suffering. So I’ll stick with my 30-06 scoped rifle.

  24. DaveL says

    @29

    That incident occurred in an area where hunting was already prohibited. I fail to see how an additional regulation banning hunting one day a week would have made a difference where it was already banned seven days a week.

  25. says

    DaveL:

    Your initial inquiry for reports on people being injured:

    Do you know of any actual cases of riders or their mounts being injured by hunters?

    did not include the additional prerequisite for legitimacy you are adding retroactively in #31:

    That incident occurred in an area where hunting was already prohibited.

    I am sure you did not intend to write comments that look like goalpost shifting, so can you clarify?

  26. cry4turtles says

    DaveL, I know of at least 2 incidents where other hunters were shot and killed (people I personally knew), but this happens at least once a year around here. And I know a girl who lost her horse in the pasture. I don’t think being aware and safe are irrational fears. I am not anti- hunter. I rely on a deer harvest every year, but terrible accidentsdo happen.

  27. DaveL says

    @32

    Some people have advanced the argument that a ban on Sunday hunting for certain species in PA is necessary or at least desirable for the safety of other people using the land during hunting season. That introduces a number of unstated assumptions that I am trying to get them to substantiate. One of them is that the magnitude of the danger is being accurately assessed, another is that such a ban would be effective in remediating it. So far neither has been substantiated.

    @33

    Other hunters yes, which is the group that hunting accidents overwhelmingly affect. That would hardly be topical to the argument being made about the safety of people enjoying other outdoor activities. Nor is the shooting of horses at pasture, deplorable as that is, since they are not people. So compared to this one example we’ve been shown, have you considered how many injuries or fatalities result from ordinary equestrian activity? Being both a rider and a hunter I’m well aware of the inherent dangers of both, and it seems to me any danger to riders from hunters is tiny compared to the danger from riding itself.

  28. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Assuming they banned hunting on Sundays because it is the Christian Sabbath, then surely that does violate the First Amendment?

    Not sure why they think it violates the second or fourteenth…

  29. says

    @34

    Is the magnitude of the danger being accurately assessed? Personally, I have no idea. I am actually of the mind that the danger is a bit overstated. I do know that as a hiker and a backpacker, one of the first “rules” I learned was to stay out of the woods during deer season, and with the amount of alcohol I used to sell to hunters at 6 am in the morning, as well as some of the hunters I personally know who I wouldn’t trust with a firearm, it is a rule I always follow. (Most hunters, I am sure, are responsible sportsmen who are safety first type people. There are a few, however, that if they enter the forest, I’ll be staying inside.)

    To be honest, I logged on to WordPress to write a spirited defense of the ban on Sunday hunting. Once I finished logging in and read through the other comments, I went off to do some research to refute several of DaveL’s points, and….

    Well, I find myself examining my past position with much less conviction. My main opposition to lifting the ban was the rational of giving non-hunters one day free of sharing the woods with hunters. But after looking up the actual dates for deer season, I realized it really is a short period of time. Yeah, it sucks that there are a couple of weeks that I really shouldn’t be hiking through the forest, but that is a couple of weeks that I can’t use them for my recreational activity, vs the majority of the year that hunters can not hunt deer.

    Now it is true that in Pennsylvania, it is always hunting season for something. For example, Coyote season is never closed. That being said, deer season is the only time the woods are really filled with hunters. I spend a lot of time in state forests and game lands; I have seen more black bears, rattle snakes, and elk than I have actually seen hunters outside of deer season. It is rare for me to even hear a gunshot.

    I know there are other non-religious arguments for keeping the Sunday ban in place. Perhaps instead of completely lifting the ban a compromise could be worked out? Something like removing the ban in state game lands and permission granted private property, while maintaining it in state park and state forest land?

  30. cry4turtles says

    I certainly do consider the inherent dangers of equestrian activities and I always wear a helmet. My reasoning is that a stray bullet is impartial to its target. In the gamelands where I ride, I wouldn’t hike during hunting season either, at least not the two weeks in November. I didn’t worry about it when I was young and immortal. Now that I’m old(er), safety has become more important.

  31. Nick Gotts says

    An amusing and distantly related story.

    When I was a kid, my father regularly played tennis with Ted Willis – the only lord I’ve ever known. Not mentioned in the linked wikipedia article are his atheism, and passionate secularism. At that time, there was a law in the UK (may have been only England and Wales) forbidding the playing of games outside one’s own (Church of England) parish on a Sunday – which was seldom if ever enforced. Willis once went to a police station after his Sunday game of tennis, and confessed to this crime, demanding to be prosecuted. IIRC, he was, was found guilty, but was given an absolute discharge (i.e., no penalty at all). The law was repealed not long after.

  32. DaveL says

    @37 – you realize that, going by the number of riders hit by stray bullets according to incident archives like those at C.A.S.H. (an anti-hunting organization, not inclined to understate the numbers) the danger to you from stray bullets is still orders of magnitude lower than the risk to you from your own mount? Democommie found what, ONE incident of a rider being hit in the past few years (there are a few others of horses at pasture being hit, people illegally hunting wild horses, or ironically hunters being injured by horses)?

    Compared to 92,763 emergency room visits from equestrian sports over 2 years? 9.9% of which required hospitalization?

  33. says

    DaveL:

    This:

    http://www.backcountry.net/arch/at/9807/msg00147.html

    isn’t about a horse being accidentally mistaken for anything.

    You want instances of stupidents with gunz? They abound.

    http://accidentalgunshots.tumblr.com/archive/2013/2

    And these are only the ones that were noticed by this aggregator.

    I know people who are smart, responsible hunters who have told me hair raising stories about almost being shot by morons who don’t know shit about field craft or hunting and almost being shot, on purpose, by pissed off hunters over who actually shot some game animal. These are people who are quite familiar with my stance on firearms regulation and know that I’m not a friend of the NRA.

    One less day of hunting in PA is one less day that those who live near active hunting areas have to wonder if a stray round might hurt them or damage their property.

    WHHeydt:

    The observant jew or SDA who hunts will, I’m sure, find a way to get a day off for hunting.

  34. says

    This has nothing to do with religion for or against. Its all about environmental extremism. This from a recent article I read

    ——-

    “EXACTLY WHO IS “H.U.S.H”?

    Exactly who is HUSH (short for Hunters United for Sunday Hunting). That is the question everyone is asking. That is what we have explored and the results are not quite fitting in with hushes claims that this is all about the future of hunting, constitutionality etc.

    Lets take an in depth look at the 4 people who make up HUSH and their motives for doing so.

    First, we start with Kathy Davis, the groups founder. A known enviroextreme type, Kathy has pushed and lobbied for legislation and regulation that would lower the states deer herd for years. The causes she has championed pretty much mirror those suggested by the audubon deer forum for things “needed” to further reduce the deer herd. She has also many environmental connections, and has voted for further herd reductions on a citizen advisory committee where she took part, even though the Pa Game Commission had a set goal of stabilization. She was voted down by the majority of the other participants on the committee, and her initiative failed. She had also had an interest in obtaining a PGC commissioner seat for unit 2A, but her attempt was quashed by concerned sportsmen voicing concerns over the proposed nominee. Ms. Davis has also alienated several legislators with her percieved extremism and dogged determination when it comes to her misguided lobbying efforts. There are also multiple pgc commissioners that have also said they have “tuned her out” for the same reasons. Some members of one of the larger sportsmen groups in the state, apparently confused by so much percieved extremism, have actually inquired about her being an ANTI-hunter.

    Vern Ross, another of the hush members is, interestingly enough, the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission who was a driving force behind getting deer herd reduction into place. Vern will forever be looked back upon as one of the most controversial figures in Pa game management history for the role he played in forever changing Pa deer management under the Ridge administrations deer program.

    Don Heckman, a very active participant when it came to weighing in on game issues, has consistently voiced strong support for the deer management plan and reductions. Taking a very extreme stance on the issue for years. A very adament supporter of the Pa Game Commission deer plan, as were some of his close nwtf colleagues. Mr. Heckman has certainly done some good things for wild turkey management in the state, and that should not go ignored in this brief summary.

    Josh First. Mr. First has quite the lengthy list of environmentalist ties. He is also very active in the environmental arena, so much so, he was pointed to as being an environmental extremist by one of the states largest sportsmen groups who opposed his nomination when he tried to gain an appointment to the Pa game commissions board of commissioners. Mr. First also made a failed attempt to gain the senatorial seat of Pa district 15 in 2012.

    Many believe that these people are nothing more than very willing pawns in the “deer wars” and it certainly looks that this may indeed be the case. Sunday hunting would go a long way towards being able to harvest more deer, and thereby further what some are calling an “environmentally extreme” agenda. “

  35. says

    I always love to see new noms de net here on the spacious and well appointed comment threads of DftCW but tell me, honestly Dave Je and Cecil Dir, do you have any opinions on subjects that don’t involve killing Bambi?

    We know who H.U.S.H is, thank you very much. Who is the writer of the piece you quote? Is it Unified Sportsmen of PA? I know that they’re friends of fracking and Teabaggin’Teddy Nugent but that’s about all I know. They wouldn’t be a group of Socialists or somethin’, would they?

  36. says

    Wow, I have looked into this article and it is ALL spot on the money. Sickening how these green-peacer new age “HUSH” liberal idiots want to destroy our hunting heritage posing as hunters just so they can have some political clout to destroy out deer herd and hunting in pa along with it. They have had far too much say in our hunting matters, and need to go march in some gaypride parade and stay out of our business.

  37. says

    http://deerhunter777.wix.com/sportsmen-alert

    Is the newest push for Pa Sunday hunting ALL about deer?

    © 2023 by ONLINE FLYER EVENT.

    Music

    Music

    EXACTLY WHO IS “H.U.S.H”?

    Exactly who is HUSH (short for Hunters United for Sunday Hunting). That is the question everyone is asking. That is what we have explored and the results are not quite fitting in with hushes claims that this is all about the future of hunting, constitutionality etc.

    Lets take an in depth look at the 4 people who make up HUSH and their motives for doing so.

    First, we start with Kathy Davis, the groups founder. A known enviroextreme type, Kathy has pushed and lobbied for legislation and regulation that would lower the states deer herd for years. The causes she has championed pretty much mirror those suggested by the audubon deer forum for things “needed” to further reduce the deer herd. She has also many environmental connections, and has voted for further herd reductions on a citizen advisory committee where she took part, even though the Pa Game Commission had a set goal of stabilization. She was voted down by the majority of the other participants on the committee, and her initiative failed. She had also had an interest in obtaining a PGC commissioner seat for unit 2A, but her attempt was quashed by concerned sportsmen voicing concerns over the proposed nominee. Ms. Davis has also alienated several legislators with her percieved extremism and dogged determination when it comes to her misguided lobbying efforts. There are also multiple pgc commissioners that have also said they have “tuned her out” for the same reasons. Some members of one of the larger sportsmen groups in the state, apparently confused by so much percieved extremism, have actually inquired about her being an ANTI-hunter.

    Vern Ross, another of the hush members is, interestingly enough, the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission who was a driving force behind getting deer herd reduction into place. Vern will forever be looked back upon as one of the most controversial figures in Pa game management history for the role he played in forever changing Pa deer management under the Ridge administrations deer program.

    Don Heckman, a very active participant when it came to weighing in on game issues, has consistently voiced strong support for the deer management plan and reductions. Taking a very extreme stance on the issue for years. A very adament supporter of the Pa Game Commission deer plan, as were some of his close nwtf colleagues. Mr. Heckman has certainly done some good things for wild turkey management in the state, and that should not go ignored in this brief summary.

    Josh First. Mr. First has quite the lengthy list of environmentalist ties. He is also very active in the environmental arena, so much so, he was pointed to as being an environmental extremist by one of the states largest sportsmen groups who opposed his nomination when he tried to gain an appointment to the Pa game commissions board of commissioners. He has also worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, Dcnr (under Tom Ridge) is on the policy council of 10,000 friends of Pennsylvania and is coordinator for ‘Pa Habitat Alliance’ which is headed by the Audubon Society. His environmentalism resume is far too lengthy to list here, but much informtion is available online. Mr. First also made a failed attempt to gain the senatorial seat of Pa district 15 in 2012.

    Many believe that these people are nothing more than very willing pawns in the “deer wars” and it certainly looks that this may indeed be the case. Sunday hunting would go a long way towards being able to harvest more deer, and thereby further what some are calling an “environmentally extreme” agenda.

    It is our belief that the unsupportable deer herd reductions and resulting maleffects of extremely low hunter satisfaction and drop out is very damaging to our hunting heritage in Pennsylvania and it has gone on long enough.

  38. says

    “that don’t involve killing Bambi”

    No. Most hunters I know, self including like to be able to see a few bambis when we are out tryng to kill one. Just funny that way I guess. Hunters not wanting their sport to be destroyed or dictated by other interest “EXTREMISTS” as has been the case and documented for over 10 years now.

    And we hunters don’t support it? Imagine that…

  39. says

    “Why would an “evironextremist” want to allow MORE killing of animals? Doesn’t that sound a little contradictory????”

    Apparenty you aren’t that educated on the issues. Antihunter is someone opposed to hunting. Environmental extremist has extreme views of environmental issues. Any person can be one or the other, both, or neither. Although you already knew that didntcha miss hush?

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