PA lawmaker targets Sunday pheasant hunting ban
HARRISBURG — Six days each week for the past nine years, Dan Metzler has opened his 138-acre property in Franklin Township to regulated hunting.
Twice a day, on busy days, hunters and their dogs make the trek to Metzler’s Erie County land to bag pheasants, quails and chukars, birds Metzler gets from nearby suppliers.
Metzler would like to take his business from six days a week to seven, but Pennsylvania hunting laws prevent him from operating on Sunday.
“People that work five, five and a half days a week only have Saturday afternoon to get out,” he said.
If Metzler could operate on Sunday and book two hunts each day, within 12 weeks he could have enough new income to pay his property taxes for the year — about $3,000.
“Whatever way you look at it, we’re losing money because of the one day a week where people aren’t working that can get out and spend their tourist dollars in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Metzler reached out to a local lawmaker, Rep. Greg Lucas, R-Erie, who is now sponsoring legislation to change the state regulations, opening Sunday hunting on regulated commercial hunting grounds like Metzler’s.
Regulated hunting grounds, according to Pennsylvania law, allow hunting for pheasant, chukar partridge, Hungarian partridge, bobwhite quail and mallard ducks. Some may also offer clay target practice, yet different regulations apply to commercial and noncommercial hunting grounds.
The state has 83 commercial shooting grounds, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and 233 noncommercial grounds, which can operate on Sunday.
The state’s rules against Sunday hunting began with “blue laws” restricting Sunday activities.
The proposed legislation would remove the “noncommercial” distinction that allows Sunday hunting at places closed to the public. Those clubs can’t charge per-bird fees or offer packages to use the grounds.
“Most of these are private sportsmen’s clubs or various dog clubs that use the areas to facilitate bird-dog training for club members,” said PGC spokesman Travis Lao. “The clubs might also host various dog competition events.”
Metzler has given some thought to opening a dog training site on his land, just to have some kind of Sunday business. But other state regulations make that tricky. Hunting grounds must have at least 100 acres, and a dog training area requires at least 30, he said. Two such parcels would cut Metzler’s acreage and could make it difficult for his customers.
“We couldn’t use that 30 acres in conjunction with the regulated shooting operation,” he said. “We could turn the birds loose overhead, but if one flies over there, you can’t get it.”
Metzler said about a half-dozen customers each season ask if they can hunt Sundays. He has to turn them away, and he thinks some head to Ohio and New York state, where the rules are different.
Most hunting in Pennsylvania occurs on private land, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, including farmland.
The organization, which represents about 50,000 farmers statewide, led the charge against a statewide Sunday hunting expansion a few years ago, and it’s watching a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Sunday hunting ban.
Mark O’Neill, PFB spokesman, said the group opposes any attempts to expand Sunday hunting; Lucas’s proposal, he said, doesn’t yet include bill language to review.
“At this point, we would oppose that because it would be an expansion,” he said.
Lucas said his proposal wouldn’t affect farmers — just privately owned commercial hunting grounds.
“They have to be licensed, regulated hunting grounds,” he said. “And they have to apply for a state permit, and it’s very, very specifically spelled out how it’s done.”
Metzler said he’s gotten involved with a local farm bureau chapter, hoping to find common ground.
“If you aren’t able to harvest your crops or tend to your animals on Sunday because of a regulation from the commonwealth or from the game commission, you would be as unhappy as I am.”
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