A House bill that could see rabbit dogs in use on Sundays during the small game season in the Tar Heel State has passed the state Senate this week and is a step away from being sent to the governor.
The legislation, HB 640, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon, passed favorably the House Wildlife Resources Committee then sailed to a 83-35 final vote in that chamber early in May. Passing the Senate in a 34-13 final vote on May 28, 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. Further, the Senate version does not allow for hunting until after 12:00 noon.
This final part is a sticking point to the National Rifle Association who is now pushing to block the bill they originally backed.
"To prohibit hunting with firearms before noon on Sunday extremely weakens the original Sunday hunting provision passed by the House in HB 640, and it is absolutely unnecessary. As proven in the 41 states that allow Sunday hunting with firearms on private property, church attendance is not negatively impacted, and hunters continue to have a high safety record every day of the week," says the NRA on the current legislation, which they see as imperfect and are advocating House representatives not concur with.
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.
The final version of the bill even notes that hunting with dogs in a treasured tradition and includes a section that extends the rights of both property owners and dog owners concerning lost dogs.
"It is the intent of the General Assembly to recognize that hunting with dogs is a valuable part of the outdoor heritage of the State of North Carolina, and it is further the intent of the General Assembly to encourage cooperative and neighborly agreements between landowners and hunters to allow legal retrieval of hunting dogs," reads the bill.
Still, church leaders and some rural lawmakers are in opposition to the measure.
"We believe in the right to bear arms," Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League and a former Southern Baptist pastor, said in an open letter to the NRA on May 25. "We believe in hunting. We believe animals are a part of God's creation, but not equal to man with similar rights. Yet we differ from you on Sunday hunting."
Other groups, such as the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Legalize North Carolina Sunday Hunting For All support the repeal.
Still, North Carolina is one of just nine states that currently ban Sunday hunting.
HB 640 is now headed to the House for concurrence and, if successful, would end up with the governor.
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.