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House passes Sunday hunting bill

Despite a contentious debate in which some invoked the sanctity of the Sabbath and others Virginia’s hunting heritage, the House of Delegates on Tuesday easily passed a bill that would allow Sunday hunting if landowners permit it.

The bill, from Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, allows hunting of waterfowl on Sundays, and lets a landowner and his family hunt on their land or give someone else permission to hunt on their land on Sundays, as long as the hunting isn’t within 200 yards of a house of worship.

In debate on the bill Monday, Gilbert said he proposed the bill because fewer people are hunting, as evidenced of a drop in hunting license sales in Virginia.

Fewer hunters mean more nuisance deer, he said, and a loss of a Virginia tradition.

With the pressures of current life, Gilbert said, many people can’t take off work to hunt, and are currently confined to only hunting on Saturdays.

He said opponents argue that Sunday hunting means people can’t enjoy other outdoor activities, like horseback riding or cycling. Gilbert thinks those arguments are faulty.

“This is a private property issue. I would hope nobody is cycling or horseback riding on someone’s private property without permission,” Gilbert said.

But others — just as conservative on gun issues as Gilbert — argued against it.

For Del. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenberg, Sunday hunting is a slap at the Sabbath.

“Think about the direction our country is going in… the direction our morals are going in,” Wright said. “I think this country was a lot better off when we had some respect for Sunday, when you got up and went to church and things of that nature … Sunday is the Lord’s day, it’s a day of worship, and hunting is not going to do a thing but continue to chip away at that day.”

Del. James Edmunds, R-Halifax, said it could even keep landowners out of church. They’d have to decide whether to go to church, he said, and having it known they weren’t home to protect their property from hunters, or stay home and guard their land.

Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Caroline, said that while Sunday hunting bills are proposed every year, he’s rarely had to vote on one because they usually fail in committee.

Orrock said he is a hunter and a hunting safety instructor.

“I have done everything I think I can do to try to promote the hunting experience,” he said.

But still, 97 percent of Virginians don’t hunt, Orrock said.

“And the anti-hunting sentiment in my district grows every day,” he added.

Orrock warned that Sunday hunting could harm hunting advocates’ cause.

“I fear that they will actually be harming their attempts to hunt in the future,” he said. “Public opinion is moving against them, as hunting in general.”

The House passed the bill, 71 to 27. It will now go to the Senate, where a power shift from Republican to Democratic hands is in progress.