NEWS- Buck stopping: Blue law on deer draws fire

Deer season began November 18, and for the next seven weeks, hunters can blast away in the woods– except on Sundays. But that Sabbath-day hunting ban could soon come under some fire of its own as a new state-sponsored survey gets under way.

Dating back to just after the Civil War, when Sunday was more widely seen as the Lord's day, the shot-free Sunday was just one of the so-called "blue laws" banning many forms of commerce and recreation. Today, stores are open on Sunday, and citizens can buy a beer and enjoy other unholy activities– but they still can't go out in the woods to hunt. 

 Surveys in 1997 and 2000 showed hunters pretty evenly divided on the Sunday ban, according to Julia Dixon, spokesperson for the the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Dixon says that many residents of Tidewater and Northern Virginia, as well as people who've moved from states that allow Sunday shooting, favor repeal of this blue law, while older, rural residents are more likely to oppose it.

Opposition to Sunday hunting also comes from folks not necessarily concerned about the sanctity of the Sabbath. The ACLU, that watchdog of church/state separation, has no intention of going after the law forbidding Sunday hunting, according to its executive director, Kent Willis, even though he notes, "You probably could show a religious purpose deep in the origins of this."

State Senator Creigh Deeds is such a big supporter of the right to hunt and fish that he carried a "right-to-hunt" constitutional amendment to Virginia voters in 2000, and it passed. But allow hunting on Sundays?

"I'm a little reluctant to go down that path," says Deeds. "People in the woods with guns are inconsistent with other uses like bird watching or hiking."

For Deeds, who lives in rural, hunt-happy Bath County, "It's the one day in the week we can send the kids out without worrying about them getting shot."

When he was young, Deeds says, hunting season lasted two weeks. Now, with time for muzzle loaders and bow hunters, the season stretches from October to January. "So that one day [without hunting] is not a big deal to me," he says.

While the Bath native says he's had constituents weigh in on both sides of the issue, Deeds believes the push for Sunday hunting may be bureaucratically inspired, a reaction to a decline in sales of hunting licenses.

"They see it as a way to boost license sales and increase tourism dollars," he says.

Certainly, the survey the Game Department is taking, focusing exclusively on 5,000 hunters, may not represent the views of random citizens. And ultimately, it's up to the General Assembly to change the law.

For those who've gotta hunt on Sundays, the Game Department's Dixon suggests two alternatives: licensed game preserves where pheasants and quail are legal Sabbath targets, and raccoons– at least up until 2am on Sunday mornings.

Current Virginia law allows deer a day of rest by banning Sunday hunting– but that may change.