HOLMBERG: Sunday hunting ban could cost you some dents, maybe even your life

Posted at 11:42 PM, Nov 15, 2013

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been seeing more and more dead deer beside the road in recent years, and in the past few weeks.

Two of my cars have been damaged  hitting deer, because I ride home at 1 or 2 a.m., after getting off work. It’s like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom out there in western Hanover County. Deer, skunks, foxes, raccoons and those dang dimwitted ‘possums.

Usually, I ride a motorcycle. I’ve had numerous close calls. I once hit a bear cub a glancing blow with my knee. The thing was as black as midnight. Scared me worse than it did him, I’ll bet.

And I’m one of the very few who have survived a full-on deer-motorcycle collision – a full-grown doe. (Please don’t lecture me to slow down and pay closer attention. Believe me, I’m watching with gritted teeth. This one literally leapt right into my handlebars and chest.)

Friends, there are a quarter-million deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. each year. More than a billion in damages,  with 200 or so people killed and lots more injured.

It’s going to get worse, especially in Virginia.

Here’s why:

We’re one of 11 states with a ban on Sunday hunting.

This ban is all part of the religious blue law movement (in the black-and-white photo era) that banned all kinds of things on Sunday: boozing, shopping, hunting, kissing at the tractor pull. 

Back then, there were tons of hunters, plenty of habitat, natural predators and not so many cars.

Many of the natural predators have disappeared or declined. We’ve subdivisioned and shopping-malled away a huge portion of the habitat and criss-crossed the rest of it with roads.

Deer populations have skyrocketed since then and are now holding steady – about a million across the state. Hunters kill a little less than a quarter of them, according to the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Which is why deer-vehicle collisions have shot up. Vehicles have become key predators in deer population management.

And this season is going to be especially tough. The cyclical acorn crop is unusually low this fall, which means critters that depend on them will be on the move, explained Lee Walker with the game department.

Meanwhile, the hunting population is aging quickly and on the decline. Each year there’s a steady 3 percent decline in state hunting licenses. That means the game department’s $56 million annual budget to care for the state’s vast acreage of wildlife habitat is shrinking.

And once the hunters in the boomer generation can’t limp out to the woods anymore, we’ll have to start hiring them as deer-crossing guards every half mile or so.

Recapping: Fewer hunters and predators, less habitat, more us, more cars and trucks and motorcycles = more chance your car and you or your loved ones could slam into a poor deer.

Hunting is known to improve the health of animal populations. Only the most blindly devoted animal lovers will argue otherwise.

The “animals need a day or rest” argument has been proven a myth.

The ban is also thought to cost the state tourism dollars.

A heavy duty lawsuit by Safari Club International is calling Virginia’s Sunday hunting ban unconstitutional (exactly!) and not based on game management science. The laws are under serious fire in the 10 other states that ban or restrict Sunday hunting.

Come on . . . folks can shop on Sunday. And the state recently decided to open its ABC stores on the holy day.

Which causes more noise and destruction: booze or hunting?

Drop the ban. At the least, let each county decide whether or not they want Sunday hunting.

Then I’ll know which ones not to ride through.

The board of the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries previously issued this position statement on lifting the Sunday ban:

Summary of the Safari Club lawsuit:

Lawsuit Claims Virginia's Sunday Hunting Ban is Unconstitutional

On October 23, 2013, Safari Club International (SCI) filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia's ban on Sunday hunting. The lawsuit argues that the ban is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia, in particular because of Virginia's constitutional right to hunt.

"Sunday hunting bans should be a thing of the past," said SCI President Craig Kauffman. "Hunters have to work during the week, and young hunters are in school, making weekends the primary time they can hunt. The unconstitutional ban on Sunday hunting robs hunters of half their potential time afield, and has absolutely no basis in science or conservation."

Kauffman noted that SCI anticipates debate over proposals to repeal the ban at least in part during the upcoming Virginia 2014 legislative session, and said, "As hunters, we are hopeful that state legislators support the Virginia Constitutional right to hunt and fish and pass meaningful legislation to repeal the ban. SCI will not formally serve the Commonwealth of Virginia until state legislators have exhausted their efforts in Richmond. The filing of this lawsuit marks our promise to pursue this issue through any and all available means," Kauffman concluded.

In addition to the constitutional claims, SCI's suit asserts that Virginia's purported justification for the ban - to give wildlife a "day of rest" - is not supported by sound scientific or wildlife management principles. This misunderstanding of wildlife ecology was highlighted by Virginia's Board of Game and Inland Fisheries when it stated , "the Virginia ban on Sunday hunting serves no biological purpose and is counterproductive to matters of game management."

In polling conducted earlier this year an overwhelming 88.6% of SCI members supported full and/or partial repeal of Virginia's Sunday hunting ban.

Eliminating the Sunday hunting ban will provide all hunters with an additional day to hunt, will encourage Virginia hunters to stay in state to hunt on Sundays, and will give out-of-state hunters the opportunity to visit Virginia to hunt on Sundays.

Only 11 states, all on the East Coast, currently have some kind of ban or limitation on Sunday hunting. Opponents of overturning the ban make baseless predictions of dire mayhem, but the existence of Sunday hunting in the vast majority of states proves that these wild predictions have no basis in truth. SCI hopes that success in Virginia might encourage other states to eliminate their statutory bans or limitations on hunting on Sundays. Professional wildlife managers should regulate hunting based on sound science and wildlife management principles, not archaic statutes that have no conservation value.