NC Sunday Hunting Law Goes Into Effect October 1

ASHEVILLE — Hunters will now be able to bag dinner on Sundays right on their front lawn with the passage of the new “Outdoor Heritage Enhanced” law that goes into effect Oct. 1.

And soon after, hunters might be able to freely hunt on public lands on Sunday, which has been prohibited in North Carolina for nearly 150 years.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Millis, R-Onslow, and passed in July, makes changes to a 2015 law that allowed Sunday hunting with firearms on private property. It also makes changes to laws governing Sunday hunting of migratory birds and Sunday hunting on public lands.

North Carolina is one of only 11 states that bans hunting on Sunday, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, which all have Sunday restrictions or prohibitions. Four states prohibit any form of Sunday hunting: Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

A North Carolina bill in 2009 attempted to repeal the ban on hunting with guns on Sunday, but it was shot down, with the exception of bow-hunting and falconry on private lands.

The Sunday hunting ban has been on the books since 1869, one of the “blue laws” that have roots in religious observance, much like the North Carolina ban on selling alcohol before noon on Sunday in most counties.

While passive forest recreationists such as hikers and birdwatchers have long enjoyed not having to avoid guns for one day in the woods, in recent years proponents of hunting have pushed for more opportunities to hunt on Sundays, citing division of church and state and private property rights.

In 2015, the state passed a law allowing hunting with firearms on Sundays on private lands, but only if they were at least 500 yards away from a church or a house not on the property, slowly chipping away at the long-held restrictions.

Previously, hunting on Sunday was only allowed on private land with archery equipment. The new law now allows for Sunday hunting with firearms on private property within 500 yards of a residence owned by the hunter (allowing for stepping out the front door to hunt.)

But it still restricts hunting within 500 yards of a place of religious worship and bans hunting with the use of dogs.

“Previously, there was a buffer zone of 500 yards around a residence you did not own on private land. There is now no buffer zone, as long as you have permission to hunt on that land,” said Ashton Godwin, legislative liaison with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the agency that oversees all hunting, fishing and trapping rules on 200 million acres of game lands across the state.

Another provision of the law removes the prohibition of Sunday hunting in counties with populations greater than 700,000, such as Wake and Mecklenburg counties.

“That restriction was removed. Now counties will have to vote by referendum to allow Sunday hunting, with a majority vote in a general election,” Godwin said.

Taking the hunt to the public

The new statute now allows public land managers, including the Wildlife Commission, to authorize gun hunting on Sundays on the public lands for which they have jurisdiction, such as the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, state forests and public lands held by land conservancies, Godwin said.

The decision would be left to the land agencies. Hunters would still be prohibited from hunting with guns between 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., from hunting deer with the use of dogs and from hunting within 500 yards of a place of religious worship.

Hunting on public game lands managed by the Wildlife Commission is still prohibited, unless the agency decides to authorize Sunday hunting. The commission owns 500,000 acres of the 2 million acres it manages as game lands.

Godwin said the Wildlife Commission will collaborate with forest user groups to determine on an individual basis, if the resource can support Sunday hunting with firearms on those half-million acres of game land.

“Some game lands are open to hunting three days a week, some six days a week, we’ll have to do our research,” he said.

Another main component of the new legislation continues to prohibit Sunday hunting of migratory birds, but gives the Wildlife Commission the authority to lift the prohibition after March 1, 2018.

Migratory birds include ducks and geese as well as doves, crows, marsh hens, woodcocks and others.

Kyle Brown, a retirement plan administrator in Marion who hunts turkey and deer with guns, is pleased with the new law.

“I think it’s a good thing in terms of providing more opportunities for hunters. Your average hunter works Monday-Friday and only has two-three weeks of vacation. We have to travel to other states that don’t have hunting bans on Sunday,” Brown said.

“This will give us an extra day to hunt. Instead of driving four hours and having only one day to hunt. It should help people with leases to hunt in other parts of the state where deer hunting is better, so they’ll have that extra day. This would also help more hunter stay closer to home.”

Brown said he knows hikers like having Sundays in the woods without hunters, but said since gun season in Western North Carolina only lasts five weeks, the law would only take that away for five days.

“I know some people think you shouldn’t be hunting on Sunday when people are going to church, but I think it should be a personal choice,” he said. “Just because hunting is legal on Sunday, you don’t have to hunt if you don’t want to.”

“Excise tax from firearm sales contribute millions of dollars to our budget to maintain lands for wildlife conservation,” Godwin said. “Without that money we wouldn’t be able to manage these lands.”

“Excise tax from firearm sales contribute millions of dollars to our budget to maintain lands for wildlife conservation,” Godwin said. “Without that money we wouldn’t be able to manage these lands.”

A 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report found there are 335,000 hunters in North Carolina who had an economic impact to the state of more than $525 million.

For more information on the Outdoor Heritage Enhanced law, visit New Sunday Hunting Regulations.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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