As tradition demanded, Monday was an unofficial holiday for Pennsylvania hunters, who by the hundreds of thousands took to the woods clad in fluorescent orange for the first day of deer season. This year's hunt took place as the Legislature was poised to challenge another tradition less loved: No Sunday hunting.
The prohibition against hunting on Sunday in Pennsylvania (with the exception of hunting pests such as foxes and coyotes) dates from 1873. The existing law is a remnant of the notorious "blue laws," which once pulled a sanctimonious corset over all sorts of activities deemed subversive of keeping the Sabbath holy.
Bit by bit, these laws have given away to the understanding that those who want to observe the Sabbath can do so in their own way without government concern for church attendance. For example, where once professional sports were banned on Sundays, Steelers fans today can go to the game after attending morning services. The same consideration should be given to sportsmen who want to hunt.
As with most modern attitudes, Pennsylvania is out of step with most of the rest of the country. Some 39 states permit Sunday hunting, including Pennsylvania's neighbors New York and Ohio. West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey permit some Sunday hunting with restrictions.
To be fair, the arguments against Sunday hunting are not all motivated by the old blue law concerns. Objections are also raised by hikers, runners and nature lovers who want to enjoy the woods on Sundays without having to worry about stray bullets. Additionally, farmers want to enjoy a day with their families without having to deal with hunters.
These concerns are understandable but, in the end, not persuasive. Nature lovers have no monopoly on state forests, certainly at the expense of hunters who have limited seasons (hunters must buy licenses that support game management and other users of the woods do not).
As for safety, few non-hunters are casualties of hunting accidents, despite thousands of hunters being in the field. Farmers' concerns seem similarly overblown: Nobody can hunt on a farm without the owner's permission and their objection can be clearly posted.
House Bill 1760 would take the authority for Sunday hunting from the old blue laws and put it in the hands of the state game commission, where it properly belongs. The commission would set the terms for hunting on Sundays within a year. It's time to fade from blue to fluorescent orange on at least a few Sundays a year.