Peace and quiet in the outdoors, the opportunity to flee the city grid or the orderliness of the suburbs, and an opportunity to take in the soothing tonic of the natural world—these are values that Americans hold dear, and millions more of them each year, in fact.
I’m speaking of birdwatchers and hikers and wildlife photographers, as well as those everyday housebound souls who just want to take a stroll in a state forest or charge down a hiking path—fleeing the settlements and designs of humanity and recharging their spirits in our ancestral home.
Just around the bend, autumn is an especially nice time for these outdoor experiences, with, in so many parts of the country, the cooling temperatures and the bright hues of the changing forest defining seasonality itself. But while it’s peacefulness we seek in the woods, it’s not always what we find. For those out to see or watch wildlife, and to do it safely, it just doesn’t feel safe with so many hunters also trudging around the woods.
Chad Sisneros/The HSUS
Most states allow hunters to take to the field with rifle, shotgun, or bow-and-arrow all week long during hunting seasons. My concerns right now are the 11 states that provide other outdoor users freedom to enjoy the outdoors, or at least partial freedom to do so, on Sundays—with a ban on Sunday hunting providing some measure of balance, albeit limited, for outdoor users.
Considering that hunters are a diminishing segment of our population, you’d think that such a lopsided allocation—being allowed to kill wildlife six of every seven days—would be enough to satisfy them. But no. In Pennsylvania today, and before long, in the other 10 remaining states, lobbyists with the National Rifle Association are setting their sights on opening hunting seasons on Sundays too. They want it all.
A more selfish demand than expanding hunting season to include Sundays is hard to imagine. Between the stifling heat of summer and the cold of winter, autumn is a season we all can cherish, and fundamentally, it is one that ought to be shared.
Birdwatchers, wildlife photographers, horseback riders, families out for a picnic—these audiences, these people, often don’t feel comfortable wandering in the fields and the woods when every day is open season. Seeking out nature and looking for wildlife shouldn’t require this kind of risk assessment. You shouldn’t have to dress your children in fluorescent orange and cross your fingers if you want to go look for the season’s migrating birds at a state park or other public lands.
What makes this such an outlandish political power grab is that hunters are a dwindling part of our culture. In Pennsylvania, they are outnumbered better than 3-to-1 by others who want a larger share of outdoor recreation. Nationwide, the ratio is nearly 6-to-1—and the ratio is skewing more and more in favor of the non-hunters every year.
Adding further insult to these outrageous demands by the NRA and its radical allies, such as the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Safari Club International, and the U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance, are survey numbers from the Pennsylvania legislature which show that nearly half of state hunters themselves oppose Sunday hunting. To them we say, right on. We often work with sensible and responsible hunters against the zealots of the NRA.
Here’s another astonishing number from the legislative survey: 82 percent of Pennsylvania landowners oppose Sunday hunting.
In the debate over Sunday hunting, you’ll hear all kinds of nonsense about the economics. But the fact is that wildlife watchers pump twice as much money into the economy as hunters, according to the most recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And that ratio has been on the upswing for years. Keeping those people out of the woods and at home on Sundays hurts the economy. End of argument.
Figures like these tell a convincing story. But there is something deeper at stake. Re-kindling our innate connection to nature is more vital today than ever. Stress and its toxic byproduct, the hormone cortisol, melt away in the quiet glades, the shadowy forests, the riverbanks and prairies of our great open spaces—that is, unless the crack of gunfire shatters the quiet, or until you look up into a tree and see that the movement that caught your eye isn’t a porcupine but a human in greasepaint camo with a bow and quiver of arrows at the ready.
You’ll be hearing more from The HSUS as the NRA tries to bully state lawmakers into ramming this unpopular idea down the throats of the many millions of Americans who hope to enjoy autumn Sundays in the woods. This year, we've already held off similar proposals to open Sunday hunting in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, and Virginia, and two more are being debated in Massachusetts and New Jersey.
When the time comes, please join with us in telling lawmakers and others that enough is already too much. If you live in Pennsylvania, take action here, and Massachusetts residents can take action here. Make yourself heard. The outdoors belongs to us all.