County skeptical of Sunday hunting bill

November 27, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Butler County appears hesitant toward new legislation that will likely allow hunters in Pennsylvania access to their sport on Sundays.Harold Aughton/Butler Eagle

Butler County appears hesitant toward new legislation that will likely allow hunters access to their sport on Sundays.

The bill to allow hunting on three Sundays each year passed a Senate vote on Nov. 18 after passing in the House in October. Gov. Tom Wolf has 10 days to sign the legislation, and if he does not sign the bill, the law will be accepted anyway.

David Thomas, a hunter from East Butler, said he has heard both sides of the argument.

“In a way, it'd be all right for the person who works Monday through Friday,” Thomas said. “But it also could tick off the farmers.”

Thomas said some popular hunting areas have few deer anymore, and the new law will further cut into an already small population.

“I like the way it always was. We used to give the animals a day break,” Thomas said. “I think they're just going to get slaughtered off more.”

The majority of Butler County's state senators also opposed the measure.

On Nov. 18 both state Senators Elder Vogel Jr., R-47th, and Scott Hutchinson, R-21st, voted against the bill, while Sen. Joe Pittman, R-41st, was the sole supporting vote from the county.

Hutchinson said he voted against the measure despite being a hunter himself.

“I am a lifelong hunter, but I believe there should be a day where folks can enjoy the outdoors one day a week without hunters being in the woods,” he said, adding that he believes the bill may create more problems for hunters than it solves.

Hutchinson said birdwatchers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy activities outside hunting should be able to do so in peace and without interruption of gunshots.

Pittman, on the other hand, believes opening up Sunday hunting on a limited basis would actually improve the number of people in the woods.

“I thought this would be an opportunity to get young people into the woods,” Pittman said. “I do believe we're at risk of losing an entire generation of hunters. If we don't get them at an early age, they'll lose interest.”

As a father of two young boys, Pittman said he'd like to support their interest in hunting.

“We get them firearms. We get them ready, but there's a limited amount of time to get them into the woods and experience what it is to hunt,” Pittman said.

Farmers and landowners also weighed in on the vote, raising concerns about preserving their peaceful Sundays.

Hutchinson said some farmers told him directly that if Sunday hunting was approved, they would post their properties as private and not allow any hunting.

“Those who have historically let it be open are going to close their land,” Hutchinson said, adding that property rights also factored into his “no” vote.

Pittman said the topic was full of difficult conversations, but he believed the bill was a good compromise that took into consideration many points of view.

“I understand the issues farmers and landowners have, but I also understand the issue of people needing to find time to hunt,” he said.

Pittman also said he was pleased with the bill's bolstering of anti-trespassing laws.

“I felt comfortable that it was limited to three days, and I was pleased with the increased penalties to trespassing,” Pittman said. “I think that's important that we respect the landowners right to manage their property.”

While Hutchinson liked the amendment to impose stricter anti-trespassing laws, he argued the measure only expanded on laws already on the books.

Hunters are banned from hunting on private property without permission from the owner. In the past, verbal consent was enough, but now hunters must carry some form of written permission for any private property that is not their own land.

“I'm glad that they clarified that with written permission, but it doesn't change the law,” Hutchinson said. “The law says if someone owns property and they don't want you on it, you can't be on it.”

Senator Vogel could not initially be reached for comment.

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Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. A business reporter, he also covers Slippery Rock borough, township and school district.