The 22 percent drop in Virginia’s deer kill, a figure that is worrisome to many sportsmen, might have been 30 percent were it not for Sunday hunting being legal on private land for the first time in modern history.
“Without Sunday hunting, there may have been 12,536 fewer deer killed,” said David Steffen, research biologist of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Sunday hunting accounted for 119 reported bear kills, enough to push the 2,405 total into record territory. It likely would have had an even greater impact had the new law permitted chasing bears with hounds on Sunday.
The dismal turkey kill of 2,988 would have been even more of a disaster had it not been for the 188 birds taken on Sundays. The kill was a 44 percent decrease from the previous season and no where close to the 16,861 record of 1990. Apart from Sunday hunting, the kill could have been down 48 percent, according to Gary Norman, DGIF turkey biologist.
Some sportsmen were concerned that Sunday hunting would have an adverse impact on the turkey population and recommended unsuccessfully that several days be trimmed from the season. Those fears were unfounded; in fact, it is evident that the lower figures aren’t the result of fewer turkeys, but less hunting pressure.
Perhaps the most significant thing about Sunday hunting is what it didn’t do. It didn’t create widespread conflicts between hunters and landowners. Oh, to be sure, there were some tension and a few extra “No Trespassing” signs were tacked along property boundaries, but the divisiveness that had been predicted by opponents simply didn’t occur. Landowners still maintained control, since written permission was required to hunt their property.
“Sunday hunting came in like a lamb and went out like a lamb,” said Lee Walker, DGIF director of outreach. “As the media person at this agency, I heard little to no issues that required my attention.”
Even with Sunday hunting an option, many hunters chose not to try it, leaving Saturdays as the big day to hunt.
There were concerns that Sunday hunting would create major enforcement challenges, but DGIF conservation police officers say they were confronted with far fewer complaints on Sundays than on Saturdays.
Information on the initial year of Sunday hunting was reported by a PowerPoint presentation to General Assembly members who had debated the issue for several years, passing it in 2014. There were no bills in the 2015 General Assembly to expand it to public land.
For some reason, bowhunters bought into Sunday hunting big time, and with good success.
“Based on the harvest, archery and muzzleloader hunters took much greater advantage of Sunday opportunities than did firearms hunters,” Steffen said.
About 13.5 percent of the total archery kill occurred on Sundays while that figure was 9.7 for muzzleloaders and just 5.4 for firearm’s hunters. That meant the archery and muzzleloading results were little changed from the previous season while the modern firearm’s season take was off 28.5 percent.
“It appears there are a good number of hunters taking advantage of the early archery and muzzleloading seasons with hopes of finding that really big buck early in the season,” Walker said.
It is impossible to make definite conclusions about the impact of Sunday hunting with just one year of data, said Steffen. For example, were hunters just switching to Sunday from another day or did the Sunday hunting represent new effort?
What about the economic impact? Did Sunday hunting attract non-resident hunters, boost hunting license sales and recruit new hunters? Did it stimulate the sale of guns and ammo; motel rooms and restaurant meals?
Those are questions yet to be answered.