Why Is Sunday Hunting Not Allowed?

By Ralph ScherderJune 9, 20234 Comments

My first taste of Sunday hunting came several years ago on a one-day trip to West Virginia, where it had recently been opened up on public land in certain counties. At the time, Sunday deer hunting was still a dream in my home state of Pennsylvania. So, I bought the West Virginia license and drove a few hours south to a large tract of public land that I’d hunted in the past. Shortly after first light the next morning, a Sunday morning, a spike buck walked within range, and I harvested it.

As I field-dressed the animal, I couldn’t help feeling a little paranoid, like a game warden was going to be waiting for me back at my truck. But nobody was waiting for me at the truck or anywhere else. In fact, on the way to my sister’s house nearby, I stopped at a convenience store and encountered a game warden who congratulated me on the kill. It was surreal.

Why Is Sunday Hunting Not Allowed?
The first deer I ever killed on a Sunday felt a little strange, like I was doing something illegal - I guess old traditions are hard to break.

Old habits and traditions die hard, I guess, and there’s no greater proof than many of this country’s blue laws. However, as these laws face more legal challenges and sportsmen demand more opportunities, things are slowly changing. Sunday hunting is slowly becoming more accepted within the hunting community, but these changes haven’t come without a fight.

What are Blue Laws?

Blue laws restrict or ban certain activities on particular days of the week, mostly commonly on Sundays. They can restrict everything from alcohol sales to car sales – yes, it’s still illegal to purchase a vehicle on Sundays in many states. There are also restrictions on playing organized sports on Sundays in many states. For instance, Maryland prevents professional sports teams from playing before 1pm on Sunday unless the local jurisdiction allows it.

Blue laws were adopted for religious reasons, meant to promote church attendance and observation of the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest. The first known blue laws in North America were enacted in the Jamestown Colony in 1619 by the First General Assembly of Virginia, but their history can be traced clear back to 321 A.D. in the Roman Empire. With roots that deep, it’s easy to see why it has been so difficult to get blue laws repealed. They are deeply woven into the fabric of our society.

Why Is Sunday Hunting Not Allowed?
Church attendance is a way of life for many hunters, but it's not for everyone.

Changing the Mindset

Ten states still have a complete or partial ban on Sunday hunting: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. Many of these states are in the process of petitioning to lift the ban on Sunday hunting, but it’s been a long, grueling process, especially since so many hunters and groups support the ban.

Admittedly, I wasn’t always in favor of Sunday hunting, but it was for selfish reasons. When I was single and self-employed, I could hunt almost any day of the week I wanted to, so it wasn’t important for me to be able to hunt on Sundays, too. Fast forward six years, I now have a wife and two kids and a lot more financial responsibilities, all of which have cut into my hunting time. 

And while I wouldn’t change a thing, I find myself wanting that Sunday option more and more because so many other family and work events seem to occur through the week or on Saturdays. This probably makes me a hypocrite on this topic, but I feel like many folks would change their minds about Sunday hunting, too, if faced with a similar situation.

Many of the hunters opposed to Sunday hunting oppose it simply because of tradition. They didn’t want Sunday hunting because…well…we’ve never been able to hunt on Sundays. I saw this play out here in Pennsylvania in the fall of 2021 when, for the first time ever, three Sundays were open for hunting – one during archery season, one during deer gun season, and one Sunday determined by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. That ended up being the first Sunday after the opener of bear season. 

In my neck of the woods, public land in the northcentral part of the state, hunter participation was minimal. I drove many miles past numerous huge access areas and saw very few vehicles, despite favorable weather conditions that Sunday in archery season.

Why Is Sunday Hunting Not Allowed?
The opportunity to hunt deer on Sundays is gaining traction in states like Pennsylvania.

Last year, 2022, I drove the same loop on the Sunday in archery season and saw more vehicles at these access areas than the year before. Perhaps this is a sign that more hunters are slowly coming around to the idea of Sunday hunting.

Many hunters I talk to oppose Sunday hunting because they feel that wild game needs a day of rest. This, I believe, is rooted in the mindset that we still have as many hunters in the woods as we did 40 years ago, which simply isn’t the case. Hunting license sales in Pennsylvania, for instance, peaked at 1.3 million in 1983. By comparison, a little less than 850,000 licenses were sold in 2022, and similar decreases can be found across most of the country.

Also, we have longer seasons now than we’ve ever had, and hunting pressure is spaced out over a longer period of time. With so much privately-owned land now, too, We seldom see the concentrated pressure during a relatively short timeframe like we did many years ago.

Moreover, there is no statistical evidence that Sunday hunting puts wild game populations at risk. If it did, we would notice negative trends in the other 39 states that allow Sunday hunting, but no such trends exist.

The mindset that Sundays are for faith and family is a little harder to argue against. I enjoy attending church with my family every Sunday, and our faith plays a big role in our lives. I also acknowledge that not everybody goes to church or believes the way I do, or that Sunday morning is the only time you should devote to God. Bottom line, if someone would rather spend their Sunday mornings praising our Creator from their treestand, who am I to oppose that?

Why Is Sunday Hunting Not Allowed?
This church wild game dinner is packed with hunters, but they don't all agree on the Sunday hunting regulations in PA.

According to the NRA-ILA website, “There is no evidence that allowing hunting on Sundays negatively impacts church attendance. In fact, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, out of the top 10 states in the country for church attendance, North Carolina is the ONLY state that restricts hunting on Sundays. Here is a list of North Carolina’s Sunday hunting restrictions.

  • Hunting with firearms between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. is prohibited except on controlled hunting preserves.
  • Hunting migratory birds is prohibited.
  • The use of firearms to take deer that are run or chased by dogs is prohibited.
  • Hunting with a firearm within 500 yards of a place of worship or any accessory structure thereof is prohibited.
  • Archery equipment may be used to hunt on Sundays without the restrictions applied to hunting with firearms.


Furthermore, three of the bottom 10 states for church attendance fully prohibit hunting on Sundays. Hence, giving citizens the freedom to hunt on Sundays will not determine their religious tendencies.” (https://www.nraila.org/campaigns/huntingconservation/facts-at-a-glance-sunday-hunting/)

Changing Times

In many of the 10 states mentioned above that still have a complete or partial ban on Sunday hunting, grassroots movements have pushed to lift these bans. In Pennsylvania, state Senator Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) has led the charge. In 2012, Laughlin introduced the bill that eventually passed and resulted in the three Sundays allowed to hunting in this state. This year, Laughlin has introduced more legislation to legalize hunting on all Sundays.

Other states have also made progress, including Maine, South Carolina, and Virginia, all of which are looking to increase Sunday hunting opportunities in some way on public or private land. And West Virginia, where Sunday hunting was once prohibited, has seen the ban totally lifted across the entire state.

Why December Can Be The Best Time To Kill A Buck
Big or small, changes are coming on Sunday hunting in states like Pennsylvania.

The main two factors that effect hunters today are access and time. Lack of access to good hunting land is a major reason why many hunters leave the sport. Lack of time is another major reason why so many hunters don’t hunt as much as they’d like. Bowhunt or Die team member and Pennsylvania resident Scott Sanderson supports lifting the ban on Sunday hunting in PA. “Lack of time is a huge barrier for people when it comes to hunting. Having a Sunday option opens up a lot more opportunity for people on hectic schedules.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68% of wage and salary workers typically work Monday thru Friday jobs. If these statistics held true for the hunting population, then 68% of hunters would have their opportunities doubled with the addition of Sundays to hunt.

Also, considering the busy schedules that most families maintain with sports, school activities, and other events, Sundays may be the best option for them to introduce young people to the outdoors. Allowing Sunday hunting gives parents more opportunities to take their kids afield and introduce them to the sport. 

This is a vital component in maintaining our numbers and ensuring the future of our hunting heritage. After all, there’s a reason anti-hunting groups support bans on Sunday hunting.

Lifting the blue laws that prohibit Sunday hunting has been a long time coming. It hasn’t been easy, but we are making progress. Any time hunters gain opportunities to spend more time in the woods is a win for the sport and for our hunting heritage.

Ralph Scherder
Ralph Scherder is a full time award-winning writer and photographer from Butler, PA, where he lives with his wife Natalie, two kids Sophia and Jude, and an English Setter named Charlie. He has hunted and fly fished all over North America, and God willing, will continue to do so for many years to come.
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