Sunday Hunting On NC Public Lands

Chris Maroldy

Things just got a lot more interesting on the Sunday hunting front in North Carolina.

Governor Roy Cooper recently signed House Bill 559 into law, expanding the potential for increased Sunday hunting opportunities, including on public land, and easing some restrictions on private land.

The key word here is “potential.” Two of the most important liberalizations give the NC Wildlife Resources Commission the authority to permit migratory bird hunting on Sundays, and to allow Sunday hunting on public lands and waters–two things which have not even been possibilities until now.

But it’s important to note that until the WRC approves moves in either or both of those di­rections, the old prohibitions still apply. Fed­erally regulated migratory birds like ducks, geese and doves remain completely out of bounds on Sundays whether you hunt private land or public land, and there are no public game lands open to Sunday hunting until the WRC identifies which ones will be, if any, and when, and under what circumstances.

The NC prohibition on Sunday migratory bird hunting has been a sore point with hunters for years. Federal regulations allot the number of days each migratory species may be hunted, and include Sundays in the total. The handful of states that prohibit hunting them on Sun­days are withholding a scarce and precious commodity from their citizens and guests. This has not changed in NC, even as other game has been very gradually opened up to Sunday hunting on private land, with restrictions.

The WRC is now authorized by the new law to lift the migratory bird prohibition after March 1, 2018. The Commission is required to study the impact of lifting the ban, and will have to take into account “the biological and resource management impacts, economic impacts, and social impacts associated with hunting migratory birds on Sundays.”

One hopes this won’t take forever, and that they already have much of the legwork done, since this is not a new issue for Raleigh.

As for other game big and small, the WRC will leave the decision to approve Sunday hunting on public lands up to the individual land managers in the case of land that the state leases or includes in the game lands program, and to its internal decision-making apparatus in the case of land the Commission controls outright.

According to the WRC, if public land managers allow hunting on their lands which are under their control (national forests and federal wildlife refuges, for instance) the current Sunday prohibitions that we’ve gotten used to on private land will apply: No firearms hunt­ing from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., no deer dogging, and no hunting within 500 yards of a place of worship.

It appears to me that Sunday bear hunting with dogs is not addressed, and that the prohibition against Sunday hunting within 500 yards of a residence has been lifted. Of course, since the WRC did not specifically address those two things in their official statement re­garding public land, one assumes it will face them or clarify them when the time comes.

Currently, bear dogging on public land can be done by limited special permits. While the practice is less regulated on private land, there are many areas both public and private where it is prohibited altogether. The 500-yard rule with regard to residences was always ridiculous, and effectively blocked legal hunt­ing from far too much suitable private land. In a statement, the WRC said this change would potentially open up “millions of acres” to hunt­ing on Sundays.

The WRC hopes to have both land that it controls and land that is managed by private owners under the public game lands program integrate cohesively into any Sunday hunting program. The Commission controls approximately 500,000 acres, while an additional 1.5 million acres are owned by federal and corporate partners to the game lands program.

In addition to seeing how well the owners and managers of those 1.5 million acres will get on board with Sunday hunting, the Com­mission will also have to hear from and ad­dress other users of those lands, particularly the individuals and groups which have so ve­hemently opposed Sunday hunting in the past, even when the issue was confined to private land.

The last bits of the law that I see as important are the lifting of the flat-out prohibition on Sunday hunting in counties with populations of 700,000 or more, and pushing back to 2020 the opportunity for other counties to opt out of Sunday hunting for whatever reason. Prior to 599’s passage, counties could have opted out this fall.

This means that Wake and Mecklenburg counties, which are not yet completely paved over and do in fact include substantial woods and wildlife, can rejoin the rest of the state. Other counties such as Durham or Orange—which may be pouting—will have to suck in their lips while this all gets sorted out.

Another few years to see that the Wild West hasn’t broken out again in the Old North State —and that nobody’s going to Hell for hunting on Sunday—should be a good thing for those who want to make decisions about hunt­ing regulations based on facts rather than scary fictions.

So now if we can do something about the silliness of prohibiting hunting for three hours on Sunday morning, no matter who you are or where you are, that would be great. I also think a 500-yard Cone of Silence around a house of worship is excessive, not to mention blockheaded with regard to those who worship on Fridays or Saturdays or Wednesday evenings, but I’m willing to let that go for now. I have faith that common sense will prevail on that issue eventually. Five hundred yards is a LOOONG way.

No, I’d rather spend my powder on the 9:30-12:30 ban. For a deer hunter, that makes rolling out of bed in the morning not even worth the trouble. Sure, we all know guys who are back at the house or camp by 9 or 10 a.m. even on beautiful bluebird days. We call them politically incorrect names, or not very serious, or “late for work.”

There are times that a quick morning hunt is just what’s called for and not completely self-defeating, of course, but I’d like to think I could make that one of my options rather than have other people laying out a government-mandated hunting tactic for me. I mean, if these people were in charge of how we ate Sunday dinner, it would be with a big bowl of kale and potato salad, watching The 700 Club.

I also sometimes wonder if people who make such rules as putting a big hole in Sun­day morning hunting ever think about tour­ism. Are you driving or flying home on Sunday afternoon, or are you taking advantage of hunting time the state prohibited you from using in the morning? My guess is that you’re doing neither. You’re not coming to hunt NC in the first place. Why would you come to hunt NC from out of state if most of Sunday morning is off-limits? There are better opportunities elsewhere, especially if you don’t have a day to waste.

Is this a big deal? I think so. Maybe not if you’re tied into technology, or research, or academia, or health care or banking. Maybe not if your focus on tourism is the Biltmore Estate or UNC football or Kitty Hawk. But if you’re out in rural and small town NC where it’s getting tougher and tougher every year, then yeah, I think it matters if you have maximum opportunities for Sunday hunting, or you don’t.

So we’re making progress, NC, but there’s more to be done.

And that’s all I have to say about that!