CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The long held prohibition of hunting on Sunday in West Virginia is now history. Amid the high profile work of the legislature dealing with the teachers and school service personnel strike, legislation which opened up Sunday hunting on public land was approved and is expected to be signed by Governor Jim Justice soon.
“When I came here last year and sat down with folks at wildlife, one of the biggest things we wanted to do in the legislative session was to get Sunday hunting,” said Division of Natural Resources Director Steve McDaniel on West Virginia Outdoors. “We got half of the deal put together last year and we were excited this year to put the rest of it together and open 1.5 Million acres of land to people interested in coming to West Virginia and hunting on the weekends.”
A year ago, legislation allowed for Sunday hunting statewide on private land and this year’s bill finished off the rest of the state. It’s a considerable change in attitude from two decades ago when the idea was met at the legislature with heavy resistance. Originally, lawmakers were willing to put it to a vote in a 2001 law, which resulted in a hodgepodge of counties allowing Sunday hunting on private land, while it was closed in others. More recently, a groundswell by a handful of sportsmen who worked to put it back on the ballot began to realize success.
McDaniel was quick to note the work of those individuals as the catalyst for the change.
“The grassroots campaigns that went on around West Virginia, I don’t think we could have done it without all of the elements that were involved to get this passed,” he said.
Prior to last year’s legislation, the previous four elections resulted in voters in more counties climbing on board. The momentum picked up when organizations like the National Shooting Sports Foundation got behind the movement along with other organizations which put some funding into the push. The final piece was when the DNR, which had traditionally remained neutral on the idea, also began to advocate for the legislation.
“It’s part of an overall tourism plan we put together. West Virginia lies within an eight hour drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population and people are driving through West Virginia to go hunting ,” said McDaniel. “If you leave work on a Friday evening and you’re within a few miles of West Virginia we want you to come here and hunt, not drive through to another state where they allow hunting on public land on Sunday.”
The allowance on public land will create vastly more opportunities. It opens up just over a million acres of National Forest, 71,000 acres of state forest, and approximately 380,000 acres of wildlife management areas according to McDaniel.
“There’s a wide variety of public lands for people to take advantage of,” he added.
The measure will not take effect until 90 days from passage which means it will not be in place in time for the upcoming spring gobbler season in West Virginia, but will start with the fall hunting seasons later this year.
The bill which included Sunday hunting was amended to include several elements and became an “omnibus” DNR bill during the session. Among the other provisions was one which legalized catfish noodling in West Virginia. McDaniel acknowledged there would be restrictions added to protect catfish to the allowance in the coming months. The bill also included some cleanup language to a bill which allowed for carrying of concealed weapons on State Parks and a ban on fishing near the stocking truck along West Virginia streams and lakes.