Prohibition on Sunday Hunting and a Look at Its Incredible Staying Power

As Pennsylvania edges closer to lifting restrictions on Sunday hunting, those who support and oppose the bill offer a window into what this debate is really about.

Prohibition on Sunday Hunting and a Look at Its Incredible Staying Power

Photo: VIDOK (iStock)

The debate over Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania has made its fair share of headlines since the beginning of the new year, which has some hunters wondering: What is this debate really about? 

Nowadays, Americans can do most things on Sundays, albeit not all things. Many states restrict or prohibit alcohol sales on Sundays, and horse racing on the Sabbath used to be considered scandalous. These restrictive laws, known as “Blue Laws,” were originally used as a way to “funnel” colonists to church on Sunday mornings by limiting their competing options. At one time, there were even restrictions on when families could cook and when farmers could till their land. 

Restrictions on Sunday Hunting

Photo: National Shooting Sports Foundation
Photo: National Shooting Sports Foundation

As for hunting, these eight states still impose Blue Laws on Sunday hunting: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.

Pennsylvania, however, may soon be off this list. A senate bill is currently working its way through state government. The legislation would open up hunting during the state’s hunting seasons on an, “at will basis,” according to the Titusville Herald.

The Herald reports, “under the current prohibition, only three animals in Pennsylvania can be hunted on Sundays. These are coyotes, which are permitted to be shot year-round, and foxes and crows, which are limited to certain seasons.”

Those in favor of Sunday hunting cite the declining number of hunters nationwide, and how restricting hunter activities only compounds a situation that's already creating cause for concern. Hunters pay into each state's conservation funding through a self-imposed federal excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment. Even more, as hunting license sales decline, so too does wildlife conservation dollars.

Then there's the changing lifestyles of those who are active hunters. Generations before, more Americans lived in rural areas, and rising before work to hunt their own property or hunting in the evenings after arriving home again was not uncommon. Today, many hunters make weekend journeys to public-hunting land or out-of-town hunting leases. Hunting opportunities are limited by where hunters live, their work weeks and longer commutes. Often hunting opportunities are confined to two days: Saturday and Sunday. In those states where hunting is restricted on Sundays, opportunities are cut by half. 

Conversely, those who oppose lifting restrictions or prohibitions on Sunday hunting often cite reasons similar to those offered by Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Scott Hutchinson, who is also a hunter. “I’ve hunted my whole life," he says, in an interview with Titusville’s newspaper. "I’m a member of the NRA, but I think there are a lot of downsides to Sunday hunting and I would say I’d be against it.”

The senator cited three reasons for his opposition, some of which reflect the reasons for opposing Sunday hunting in other states as well.  

  1. Sundays have become a day for nature enthusiasts like hikers and those who enjoy horseback riding, for instance, to spend time outdoors without concern for nearby hunting activities.
  2. Hutchinson cited conversations he’s had with farmers and other landowners across the state who said they would close their land to hunting if Sunday hunting is permitted.
  3. There would be a negative economic impact to retailers relying on hunters who purchase gear and supplies on Sundays.

The negative economic impact is speculative, and is also being challenged by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). In fact, the trade association for the firearms industry suggest just the opposite. According to a fact sheet published to the group’s website, Sunday hunting could create up to 27,000 jobs in the eight states that currently prohibit or restrict hunting, resulting in $730 million in wages and contributing $2.2 billion in additional economic activity. 

Still, if upholding Blue Laws like restrictions to Sunday hunting is a matter of faith, economics and money dim by comparison. What could ease such concerns is an unexpected cause-and-effect: States that allow Sunday hunting actually have the highest rates of church attendance in the country, according to the NSSF. 


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