Raleigh, N.C. — Hunters would be able to legally pursue deer and most other game on Sundays if a controversial bill that cleared the House Wildlife Committee on Wednesday becomes law.
House Bill 640 is a sweeping bill that deals with a number of hunting-related topics, including when a hunter might lose his or her license for trespassing and changing fox hunting season in Bladen Lakes State Forest.
But the section that got the most focus during a 45-minute committee hearing pitted hunters against churchgoers, creating a rift between two politically conservative constituencies that are typically allied, or at least not at odds.
"All we're doing is practicing some good ol' property rights," said Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin. "If I want to hunt on my land on Sunday, why are there any of you in this room who could tell me I couldn't do it? If I want to invite my friends or my nephews ... why should I possibly conceive to deny them something?"
The bill would allow hunting with firearms on Sunday on private property – not public lands – provided the hunter is the landowner, a member of the landowner's family or has written permission from the landowner. Hunting migratory waterfowl or chasing deer with dogs would not be allowed on Sundays. Also, Sunday hunters would have to stay 300 yards away from a place of worship.
North Carolina is one of 11 states that bans hunting on Sundays. Dixon said he had gathered a large coalition of hunting and other groups in favor the measure. However, it has run into opposition from church groups and some county boards of commissioners.
Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, said he has heard a great deal opposition to the bill, particularly from small communities where churches are frequently found at the crossroads that dot rural areas hunters enjoy.
"Three hundred yards sounds like it's far away, but I can tell you, with a high-powered rifle it's not far enough," Brisson said.
He and Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northampton, said Sunday hunting would present both noise and safety issues.
Dixon responded that a "high-powered rifle would probably go the same distance during a Wednesday afternoon prayer meeting as it would on Sunday."
Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said the safety argument doesn't hold hold up. People, he pointed out, visit parks and outdoor areas on most days of the week, and some houses of worship, including synagogues, host worship services on Saturdays.
"To say that there's a safety issue here implies facts that aren't proven," Jeter said.
Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, took a different tack opposing the bill, saying that it eroded respect for Christian worshipers.
"As a Christian, I'll tell you, this is personal to me," Steinburg said. "I'm just a little tired of those things that we have valued in this nation for so long being whittled away from us one after another. And this is just one more incidence of that with Sunday hunting. ... The people in my district are adamantly opposed to it."
Steinburg attempted to amend the bill to exempt the six counties he represents from Sunday hunting, but that was turned back on a 5-8 vote.
The bill then passed the committee 10-3. It will next be heard on the House floor.