If you find yourself hunting in North Carolina on both public and private land during hunting seasons, you might want to check your calendar and the time because if it happens to be Sunday and you are on game lands, you will be committing a class 3 misdemeanor. Additionally, even now with recent changes in state law, if you are hunting on private land on Sunday, you better not pull the trigger between 9:30 AM and 12:30 PM without checking some distances to neighboring properties. If you are 500 yards away from a religious place of worship or residence, think twice, that buck of a lifetime could be trouble.
Why is it like this? How can a rule that was made in 1869 still remain partially intact in the 2019/2020 hunting season? I haven't been able to find a clear answer as to why the law was even put in place to begin with nor why it took so long to change the first time, which was in 2015.
One can speculate as to why the law originated but before I do that, here is the original 1869 law.
1868-1869 N.C. Sess. Laws 59-60, Pub. Laws, An Act to Prohibit Hunting on the Sabbath, ch. 18, § 1.
[I]f any person or persons whomsoever shall be known to hunt in this state on the Sabbath with a dog or dogs, or shall be found off of their premises on the Sabbath, having with him or them a shot-gun, rifle or pistol, he or they shall be subject to indictment; and, upon conviction, shall pay a fine not to exceed fifty dollars at the discretion of the Court, two-thirds of such fine to enure to the benefit of the free public schools in the County of which such convict is a resident, the remainder to the informant.
As this reads it is slightly confusing. If I am not hunting with dogs and I am on private property, can I hunt? And, could I hunt with a bow and arrow off property, (of course it may be a recurve or long bow at this time)? It’s unclear but this was the original ban on Sunday hunting.
Regardless of whether those questions can be answered, this was the law that originally prohibited Sunday hunting in North Carolina. So why was this in place to begin with? Did a politician have a run in with hunters near his home that were hunting legally and he felt they should be in church? Did he hear gunshots from his property and assume hunting was occurring on the Sabbath? And the law specifically mentions the Sabbath, that is a direct link from religion to laws governing a “free to believe or not believe what you want” state and country.
You can never know why many off the wall laws, restrictions or guidelines are put in place. I personally know of a politician who tried to shape the regulations of a city’s municipal zoning code because he was un-pleased with his own neighbor’s fence construction materials. Sometimes the personal wants of a single politician can shape rules that become touchy subjects to change in the future for fear of appearing anti-religious.
Fast forwarding a bit to 2009, the issue of permitting Sunday hunting was brought up but never beyond a thought and any attempt to press for a change was halted.
At this time in 2009, the intro to the law read:
- 103-2. Hunting on Sunday
If any person shall, except in defense of his own property, hunt on Sunday, having
with him a shotgun, rifle, or pistol, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
Provided, that the provisions hereof shall not be applicable to military reservations,
the jurisdiction of which is exclusively in the federal government, or to field trials
authorized by the Wildlife Resources Commission. Wildlife protectors are granted
authority to enforce the provisions of this section.
From 1869 to 2015, this was your basic restriction on your own land. Public game land already held “6 day a week” hunting only and that seventh day being Sunday when no hunting was allowed. This meant a statewide ban on hunting on Sunday.
On July 8, 2015, HB 640, the Outdoor Heritage Act, was signed. This was the first step in allowing hunting to occur legally on private land with a firearm on Sunday. It was a step in the right direction but still had some restrictions that boiled down to No Sunday Hunting.
Restriction #1: Hunting on Sunday between 9:30 A.M. and 12:30 P.M. is prohibited, except on controlled hunting preserves
I view this as a full Sunday deterrent to hunting because if you are willing to put in the effort to get yourself into the wood before sun rise, get all your gear on, take all the precautions not to alert game animals of your presence and then situate yourself on your treestand or in your blind, you will want to stay in position for as long as you can and not leave at 9:30AM. I also don’t see anyone waiting in a tree stand or blind for 4 hours until 12:30PM to become an “active” hunter again. 12:30 PM on Sunday usually is wrapping up time for those who have to get home and ready for the next work day.
An exception is on controlled hunting preserves meaning if you “pay” you can play, which seems like a lobbied exception because money is involved.
Restriction #2: Hunting of migratory birds on Sunday is prohibited.
This is a straight statewide ban on hunting ducks, geese, doves and other birds for Sunday hunting.
Restriction #3: The use of a firearm to take deer that are run or chased by dogs on Sunday is prohibited.
There are some places in the state that require dogs to even have a remote chance of seeing deer while hunting. Those places allow dogs to be used as a hunting tool, but Not on Sunday!
Restriction #4: Hunting on Sunday within 500 yards of a place of worship or any accessory structure thereof, or within 500 yards of a residence not owned by the landowner, is prohibited.
This is over 3 times the normal minimum distance required on Monday through Saturday, which is 150 yards. 500 yards is 1,500 feet, which is over a quarter mile. This poses a new difficulty. Let’s use a 50-acre property of about 7 acres wide by 7 acres deep. A square acre is approximately 208 feet by 208 feet, and a straight line across 7 acres is about 1456 Feet. Therefore, a square 50-acre property isn’t really large enough to get away from a neighboring residence if one was close to the border of the property. For all us small private property hunters, this rule effectively negates Sunday hunting.
Restriction #5: Hunting on Sunday in a county having a population greater than 700,000 people is prohibited.
This one only relates to two counties in North Carolina, Wake and Mecklenburg but I think if you can manage to be within the restrictions above, why single out the entire county?
This was the regulation we hunted under until 2017 when North Carolina House Bill 559 was passed and signed by Governor Cooper on July 25, 2017. This bill entitled the Outdoor Heritage Enhance bill made a few advances but also left restrictions specific to Sunday hunting.
Advancement #1: Hunting on private property (with permission of course) is no longer restricted to before 9:30AM and after 12:30PM (with exceptions below).
Advancement #2: The ban on the hunting of migratory birds on Sunday was lifted but only available on private land with the 9:30AM to 12:30PM restrictions.
Restriction #1: The use of a firearm to take deer that are run or chased by dogs on Sunday is prohibited. This remained as is with no changes.
Advancement #3: The 500-yard restriction from a place of worship or residence remained however it was removed before 9:30AM and after 12:30AM.
This advancement does help but again, this is quite limiting on the private property of 50 acres or less. It can be discouraging if you have to move and disrupt wildlife so you are legal to hunt from 9:31 AM through 12:29 PM. My own preferred hunting location on private land I have available to me won’t pass this restriction.
The bill also added language to allow Sunday hunting on state managed game lands. However, left it within the Wildlife Resource Commission’s hands on whether to allow Sunday hunting. As of June 2019, as far as I am aware, “6 Days Per Week” and “3 Days Per Week” hunting is still on the books for the 92 game lands consisting of 2,000,000 acres managed by the NC Wildlife Resource Commission.
Opponents of Sunday hunting often view hunters like Yosemite Sam. Running through the forest with guns blaring and destroying everything in our path. I am not saying there aren’t some bad apples out there but last year I fired my rifle in the woods just once and only once the previous year. Those two shots were taken only when the time was right and safety was in the forefront. Statistically I think this goes for most hunters. Often, we aren’t given an opportunity to make a shot but would like to have Sunday to try again should Saturday prove unsuccessful.
For both public land and private there needs to be additional alleviation of the restrictions set just for Sunday. Most of us hunters are courteous people and respect the space of other people there to enjoy the forest and its wonders. Yes, it would be wise to restrict hunting in areas where larger groups of people walk, ride bikes or ride horses through the forest but if hunting is allowed any other day of the week in a pubic game land, should Sunday be off limits?
The other day, I was at a sporting goods store and watched a customer purchase an assault rifle on Sunday between that 9:30AM and 12:30PM time frame. That same customer can go home and as long as he or she is 150 yards away from a residence it could be fired on Sunday after 9:30AM and before 12:30PM. Is that fair? I am sure, being an assault rifle with the ability to fire multiple rounds quickly it would not just be a single round that is fired. If that is legal and not hunting, the law isn’t meant to prevent noise during church hours, it is directly about hunting and religious views that equate to an unfair law molded by religious choices.
I will use an example using the deer seasons in one of our game lands in North Carolina; Green River Game Lands.
The previous year’s Deer Black Powder season started November 3rd of 2018 and transitioned into Rifle season two weeks later until January 1, 2019. Between those dates are 9 Sundays and total 60 hunting days, leaving 15 percent of those days on public land un-huntable. If you take into account that most of the population works 5 days a week from Monday – Friday and don’t have private land available to them, their hunting days are cut in half to only 9 of 18 available days that they are not working during the deer season.
Nine more days for a deer hunter doesn’t seem like much to ask for out of 365. For a turkey hunter it is even less, including the youth season, give him or her 5 more days to hunt.
These bills that have been passed in recent years have been tagged with the word Heritage, which means to pass something on from a predecessor. Hunting has many struggles to stay in our heritage and eliminating a small number of days from an already short hunting season for adults and youth doesn’t help maintain or grow our numbers, it weakens our bonds with nature in an ever-urbanized world.
By Zarek Melton
Zarek developed his passion for hunting and fishing later in life as an adult. He shares what he learns and how he improves using a DIY approach on his personal blog, easyisnotworthit.blogspot.com.