ANOTHER autumn is upon us and once again deer hunters anticipate taking to the Virginia woods.
A few years ago, Virginia hunters were finally granted relief from the archaic bluelaw prohibiting hunting on Sunday—at least on private lands with landowner permission.
Accessing Virginia’s vast public lands on Sundays is another story. Hunters are still persona non grata. Prohibido. Verboten. Haramu. You know: Keep Out!
Let’s tally up what this means in terms of diminished access.
First, the Virginia Department of Forestry manages 24 state forests covering 68,626 acres. Second, are the Washington and Jefferson national forests, totaling over 1.65 million acres in Virginia.
Next, we have Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries owned and maintained 42 wildlife management areas totaling more than 203,000 acres.
The DGIF website notes many of these management areas are open for some type of hunting, stating they are managed “for the benefit of all citizens for a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.” That’s fine, with one big exception: these lands were purchased and are now maintained with hunting, fishing and trapping license fees, and with Wildlife Restoration funds derived from the sale of hunting-related equipment.
Hunters should not be excluded from these WMAs on any day during hunting seasons, period—Sundays included.
Then, we have the special cases. For example, Virginia’s 37 state parks cover 72,973 acres. Park managers seem to be making a good effort to allow hunters limited, reasonable access and support hunting as a key means of managing wildlife.
In stark contrast are the national parks in Virginia, which include hundreds of thousands of acres of forests, largely wooded battlefields and more. Efforts to create some form of managed hunting have been as futile as Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Instead, park service leaders seem to prefer costly sharpshooter solutions when dealing with out-of-control wildlife populations. Hunters likely would pay for the opportunity.
Virginia’s military installations, including nearby Fort A.P. Hill and Marine Corps Base Quantico, are also unique situations. These federal entities still prohibit Sunday hunting, but my belief is local commanders could opt to ignore that prohibition and allow access seven days a week. But game management responsibilities can be challenging on military bases, especially when areas are tied up with military training or other activities Monday through Friday and many weekends.
Taken in total, the amount of off-limits public land on Sundays is staggering.
An R3 Failure
“R3” is the buzziest buzz term in the conservation world. It stands for Recruit, Retain and Reactivate. Why is it critical?
Hunter numbers are slipping or barely holding their own in many places, yet license revenues and purchases from these very people are what sustains fish and wildlife agencies and conservation programs. States, including Virginia, have hired R3 coordinators. National conferences are held to address the issue. The situation is often termed as “dire.”
Yet, one of the chief, documented problems with this effort, especially in Virginia, is—I’m going to shout here—MANY DON’T HAVE ANYPLACE TO HUNT. Or, if they do, it’s often some piece of marginal public land two hours or more from where they live.
They pay good money for licenses, stamps, permits, etc., and the only day they get to hunt is Saturday; at least that’s the case for a huge slice of the workaday world. If Saturday’s weather sucks, or any of myriad reasons why they can’t get out, they’re out of luck until the next Saturday. Youth sporting events often dominate Saturdays in the fall or spring. Many families must choose between hunting or soccer. Adding full Sunday hunting would double the days many families are able to get afield.
State legislators are content to sit on their hands. Agencies such as farm bureaus, which constantly clamor for more wildlife control, mysteriously back Sunday bans on public land. Incredible! Even the organized dog hunting world has, crazily, gone on record opposing Sunday hunting. State agency managers who may want to open access can’t publicly stick their necks out and get ahead of their appointed boards or the General Assembly.
This ridiculous prohibition needs to be solved in the General Assembly. Politicians rarely act unless pushed. If you want success in R3, in saving hunting, it’s time to start pushing—hard. This is one baby that can’t deliver itself.
North Carolina Sunday Snag
In 2000, Virginians passed a state constitutional amendment stating, “The people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest game, subject to such regulations and restrictions as the General Assembly may prescribe by general law.” It passed with 60 percent of the vote. Some 21 states already have such provisions in their state constitutions.
North Carolina voters have an opportunity Nov. 6 to adopt a similar constitutional measure, establishing public hunting and fishing as a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.
North Carolina also passed a Sunday hunting reprieve early last year, one that left the state Wildlife Resources Commission an option to reset rules allowing Sunday hunting on state game lands.
Since passage of the bill, though, nothing has transpired to enable Sunday hunting on North Carolina’s approximately 2 million acres of Game Lands.
According to John Culclasure with Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a coalition of sportsmen’s conservation organizations submitted a letter Oct. 12 to the Wildlife Resources Commission encouraging the agency to move forward with rulemaking to open Sunday hunting on Game Lands.
For more wide-ranging outdoors, wild game cooking and more coverage, visit Ken Perrotte’s blog site: www.outdoorsrambler.com.