A bill that could see rabbit dogs in use on Sundays during the small game season in the Tar Heel State has passed the state House and is rolling hard into the Senate and, should it earn the governor's signature, would add nearly two weeks to the season.
The legislation, HB 640, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon, passed favorably the House Wildlife Resources Committee then sailed to an 83-35 final vote on the floor last week. Currently in the upper chamber, it would repeal the state's 140-year-old ban on Sunday hunting-- to a degree.
Lawmakers supporting the bill point out that hunting with firearms is being targeted specifically as a sport whereas bow hunting (legal on Sunday since 2010) and other outdoor activities such as fishing and hiking are allowed on public lands. Only hunting with guns, banned since 1875 during the carpet bagging Reconstruction-era, is still prohibited.
The legislation is not perfect. It does not allow for hunting in the state's two largest counties (Wake and Mecklenburg) meaning that nearly two million North Carolinians cannot hunt in their home counties. It also forbids hunting within 500 yards of a church or home and allows the other counties to opt-out of allowing Sunday hunting after 2017.
"Between work, school and other obligations, Sunday hunting bans work to discourage hunting at a time when hunter recruitment and participation must be encouraged in order to save our hunting heritage," says the NRA on the current ban, which they support lifting.
What impact would the change bring to rabbit hunters? Well looking at the 2014-2015 season dates as a reference, North Carolina rabbit hunters would pick up an extra 14 days-- all Sundays that are currently unavailable to them.
That extra two weeks, all of weekend days, can mean an awful lot more chances to load up the dog box. While hunting deer with dogs is still off the table in the language of the law, rabbit, squirrel, and other game can be harvested with canine companions along for the hunt.
Still, church leaders and some rural lawmakers are in opposition to the measure.
"As innocuous as the Sunday hunting bill may seem to many, it barters away something primary for something secondary something that will benefit only a few at the expense of something that richly functions to the benefit of everyone," reads a statement by Dr. Mark H. Creech of the Christian Action League backing up his contention that the bill, if passed, would weaken the value of the Lord's Day.
"The legalization of Sunday hunting is but one more thing to lessen the appeal, appreciation, and asset of a 'Christian Sabbath' to our culture. It's just one more thing to undermine, frustrate and compete with the irreplaceable work of our churches," he writes.
Other groups, such as the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Legalize North Carolina Sunday Hunting For All, where one member replied to Creech's argument by pointing out, "If I go hunting on Sundays and I know I will I'll take the lord with me I take him with me everywhere I go he's not only with me in church he's with me all the time."
Still, North Carolina is one of just nine states that currently ban Sunday hunting.
If you are in the Tar Heel State, and you feel strongly either way for the bill, reach out to your state lawmakers and Gov.Pat McCrory to share your feelings.
Speaking of which, what are your feelings on Sunday hunting-- drop 'em in the comments below.