Friday, November 29, 2019

Op-Ed: Sunday Deer Hunting Is Not The Apocalypse For Hikers

By Jim Foster, Active Hiker

The Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R-Erie) on November 27, and Governor Wolf has signed it into law.  Among other changes, the new law directs the Pennsylvania Game Commission to permit hunting on Sundays starting in 2020.  
So, does this new law mean that hikers, bird watchers, and other non-hunters will be forced indoors on the Sabbath?  Absolutely not!
Let me try to talk my fellow hikers back from the ledge with a few facts. 
First, the new law will only open hunting for just three Sundays each year.  The law directs that one of these will be during rifle deer season, one will be during archery deer season and one will be on another Sunday.  
The Game Commission will select the three Sundays and announce them. Of course, that means that on 49 Sundays during the year there will be no widespread hunting in the Keystone State. 
I say “widespread” because, believe it or not, hunting is currently legal on Sundays in Pennsylvania.  Coyotes, crows and foxes can currently be hunted on Sunday, although these are not very popular game species.
Second, Pennsylvania has been an extreme outlier when it comes to Sunday hunting.  
Now that Pennsylvania is going to allow widespread hunting on some Sundays, only Maine and Massachusetts remain among states with an extensive ban on Sunday hunting.  Delaware approved extensive Sunday hunting in 2018. Virginia approved it in 2014. West Virginia approved Sunday hunting on public lands in 2018.  
It is safe to hike, birdwatch, etc. in the woods with hunters.  Non-hunters in 47 states already use the woods with hunters on Sunday.  The vast majority of hunters are extremely careful with firearms.  
There are almost no recorded instances of a hunter shooting a hiker.  Almost all hunters had to take a hunter safety course before they could get a license. Don’t believe the stereotype that all hunters are gun toting fools.
It is a good idea to take some precautions when enjoying the woods with hunters.  
I follow a simple rule when hiking on a State Game Land or other woods where hunting is permitted.  I wear some blaze orange. I don’t worry about what game is in season, I always wear a blaze orange hat or vest.  
There is always some game species that is legal to hunt in Pennsylvania.  Also, even I decline to hike on State Game Lands at certain times. The best example is the popular two-week regular firearm deer season, which starts right after Thanksgiving.  
Even then, I don’t feel especially nervous, if I have blaze orange on.  But I enjoy the solitude of the woods, and there’s not much solitude during that period. 
Beyond the subject of safety in the woods, I want to point out that most hunters are environmentalists too, and you have a vested interest in their continued viability.  Why is that?  
Many of our best hiking trails are on State Game Lands, in whole or in part.  That includes the very popular Appalachian Trail.  These precious wild spaces are protected and maintained by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  
Who provides the funding for the Game Commission’s extensive protection operations:  hunters, almost entirely. The lion’s share of funding for the Commission comes from hunting license fees and an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, commonly known as Pittman-Robertson.  
The Commission uses these funds to protect countless wildlife species, many of which are NOT hunted by sportsmen.  And, that doesn’t even count the amazing work done by hunting environmental groups like Ducks Unlimited.
So, here is my message to my fellow hikers and other non-hunter lovers of the outdoors.  Don’t hide inside on Sundays. Get a blaze orange hat and vest and enjoy the outdoors just as you have in the past.  
If you happen upon a hunter in the woods, ask her or him if they’ve had any luck.  Who knows, maybe one of them will give you some venison steak.  
Trust me, it’s really good.

Jim Foster is a retired attorney who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail several years ago.  He is a life member and active maintainer with Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Keystone Trails Association, Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club and several other trails organizations.  He serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation.  He lives with his wife in suburban Harrisburg.
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[Posted: November 29, 2019]

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