By Happy Carlock
Monte Jessee works six days a week as the operations director at High Country Outfitters in Lexington. If he wants to go hunting, he has to come into work late, leave early, or use his vacation time.
“On the seniority scale, you’re starting over, so you don’t get first pick at your vacation, you get the crappiest hours, you have to work Saturdays, and in order to be able to hunt with your friends, Sunday hunting would be good.” – Monte Jessee
But that could change by the time spring turkey season rolls around in mid-April.
A bill to legalize hunting on Sundays on private property and open water cleared a Virginia Senate panel last Thursday after passing 71-27 in the House of Delegates a few days earlier.
Jessee, also a National Rifle Association certified instructor, is in favor of the bill.
“There are a lot of folks in this economy that have lost their jobs and had to seek employment elsewhere,” he said.“On the seniority scale, you’re starting over, so you don’t get first pick at your vacation, you get the crappiest hours, you have to work Saturdays, and in order to be able to hunt with your friends, Sunday hunting would be good.”
Billy Hall is the Rockbridge chapter representative for the National Wild Turkey Federation, a non-profit organization dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation. Hall also supports the bill because of the opportunities it would give to busy hunters.
“If a man’s working six days a week trying to make ends meet, and there’s that opportunity, then he might be able to take his son or daughter out on Sunday morning,” he said.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources approved the bill last Thursday with a 9-4 bipartisan vote. The measure would limit Sunday hunting to private property and open water. Only a landowner and his or her immediate family, or a person with written permission from the landowner, would be allowed to hunt on private property. The bill prohibits hunting within 200 yards of a place of worship and would not allow deer or bear hunting with dogs on Sundays.
State Sen. Frank Ruff, a Republican member of the Senate committee from Clarksville, said the nine senators who voted in favor of the bill are from suburban areas, and the four opposing senators are from rural areas.
Some opponents of the bill argue hunting should not be allowed on Sundays for religious reasons. Jessee said he got into a debate over Facebook with a man who ran for local office on the Tea Party ticket and opposes the bill.
“His reasoning is if he takes his grandmother to church on Sunday morning, and she’s coming out, she’s going to hear gunfire,” Jessee said. “And that’s going to scare grandma to death. Maybe so, but if grandma lives in the county, she’s heard gunfire.”
The Rev. Paul Carter, senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Lexington, does not object to the bill, and he says it has not caused controversy in his congregation.
“While we have a number of hunters in the church, I don’t anticipate that there’s going to be a mass exodus from church on Sundays during hunting season,” Carter said.
Buddy Johnson, who works at Walkabout Outfitter on West Washington Street in Lexington, leads community hikes once a month and opposes the bill for safety reasons.
“Forest lands are multi-purpose, and I think that if you have hunters out there for a specific time period, it changes the ability of other people to use it in a lot of the ways that they would normally use it simply because of safety factors,” he said.
One of the bill’s patrons, Sen. David Marsden of Burke, serves on the Senate committee that passed the bill to the floor last week. He said Sunday hunting wouldn’t have a major impact on weekend recreation because hunting seasons are short.
“There are some people who feel like Sunday is their day that they can use in the woods, a lot of them therapeutic horse riding communities who take people out and are nervous about being out there when people are hunting,” Marsden said. “But it’s only on private property.”
Ruff said he thinks the bill will most likely be amended before passing.
“Somebody wanted to say not until after 1 p.m. on Sundays, somebody else wanted to make it a local option for counties to make the decision in their localities,” Ruff said. “Some of them wanted to make sure that it was not within 200 yards of public land so that people could use the parks.”
Hall said he anticipates hunting regulation changes, including new bag limits and a two-day extension of deer season.
Chris Green ran unsuccessfully for the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors in November as a Republican with support from the Rockbridge Tea Party. He argues that if passed as is, the bill could hurt hunters’ reputation. He thinks only bow hunting should be allowed on Sundays.
“I’m in favor of bow hunting on Sundays, but I think the rifle, in the long term, truly is just going to be politically used against hunters because if someone coming out of church on Sundays hears a rifle fire, I just think that’s what’s going to happen.”
Jessee said that hunters and sportsmen would need to do a better job of protecting their image if the bill passes.
“If you’re going to Country Cookin to eat, and some bubba pulls in, and he’s got a big buck in his truck and the tailgate down and blood all over the parking lot, nobody wants to see that,” Jessee said. “Even as hunters, we don’t agree with that. It gives a negative image.”
Ruff and Marsden both said they think the bill will pass and be signed into law sometime in the next few weeks.
“It could get modified, but overall, it’s going to pass,” Ruff said. “Right, wrong, or indifferent, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Brent McKenzie, legislative assistant for Marsden, said Thursday the Senate will most likely vote on the bill on Friday.