Gov. Tom Wolf has signed a law permitting hunting on three Sundays per year, but it won’t take effect until early 2020.
Gov. Wolf signed the bill on Wednesday, three days before the start of rifle deer season. Pennsylvania has shifted the start of deer season up from its traditional Monday after Thanksgiving start to the Saturday after the holiday.
"This legislation carefully balances the needs of landowners with an expanded opportunity for hunters who work or attend school during weekdays,” said Gov. Wolf.
The measure permits Sunday hunting on one day during rifle deer season, one during statewide archery deer season and a third day the Game Commission will pick.
Sunday hunting will require a landowner's written permission. The bill also makes it easier to enforce anti-trespassing laws.
Pennsylvania’s prohibition on Sunday hunting dates to the 19th century, although there are currently exceptions for crows, foxes and coyotes, and for noncommercial private game reserves.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) took a neutral position on the legislation but was pleased with the addition of provisions for trespassing.
“Hunter trespassing becomes a primary offense enforceable by the state Game Commission and violators will face increased penalties and higher fines. A hunter caught trespassing for a second offense over a seven-year period, will not only face a fine but will also lose their hunting license for one year,” said PFB President Rick Ebert. “It is important for hunters to understand that the new trespassing provisions apply to hunting that occurs on every day of the week, not just on the three Sundays allowed under the new law.”
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans called the bill's passage a win for state hunters.
“People today tend to lead busy lives, and hunters are no exception,” Burhans said. “No matter how badly a hunter might want to get out and enjoy the outdoors during hunting season, other responsibilities might take priority and make it difficult.
“Providing opportunity to experience hunting on previously closed Sundays has game-changing potential for hunters with tight schedules and, in many cases, will make a difference by enabling those hunters to hunt alongside their children, setting them on a path they’ll follow the rest of their lives,” Burhans said.
“I believe this has been a long time in coming and is truly a tribute to the thousands of hunters and the many organizations who have supported this effort,” Sen. Dan Laughlin said. “Weekends are essentially the only time that most working men and women can get out into the woods. The same could be said for many young people, the ones who represent the future of the sport. Lifting the ban will give them increased opportunities to pursue the activity that they love.”