The final public comment period for new Sunday hunting laws in North Carolina starts this month.
Since 1868, it has been illegal in the state of North Carolina to hunt on Sundays. A 2015 law removed that prohibition, followed by an expanded law two years later, said Brian McRae, chief of the Land and Water Access Division of North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.
“The Outdoor Heritage Enhanced Act was passed in 2017 and that’s what really allowed us the authority to allow hunting on Sundays on our game lands,” said McRae.
McRae explains since then, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission has been working out exactly what will be allowed on Sundays for the roughly 2 million acres that are managed as game lands.
An online survey showed non-hunters and hunters were divided. For McRae, this year’s nine public meetings and six focus groups were what really drove their recommendations. The focus groups became virtual because of COVID-19 guidelines.
“What we really heard from the focus groups is that anything we do needs to be simple, easy and understandable, said McRae. He explained that making sure public lands stay accessible was also a key concern.
The Commission decided not to make specific rules for different hunting seasons or weapons, and instead looked at each individual territory for issues with animals, popular trails or other conflicts. Ultimately, it is recommending that hunting be allowed on Sundays at 55 out of 92 game lands that it manages.
The Mountain-to-Sea Trail, is one of many factors that was taken into account. It runs almost 1,200 miles across the state. Friends of the Trail director Kate Dixon took part in one of the Commission’s focus groups.
“I would actually say our members were split on the issue,” said Dixon.
Dixon says she felt more experienced hikers are inclined to understand hunting laws and weren’t as concerned about hunting on Sundays. For example, its currently deer hunting season in Western North Carolina, so if you are hiking on a game land it is advised that you wear orange.
“Well for the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, the only parts of the trail that have opened for Sunday hunting are in the National Forest,” said Dixon. “Nothing has changed for us except in the National Forest which is clearly a very big part.”
The U.S. Forest Service manages the National Forest. McRae says the two organizations discussed each section of the forest and are currently recommending Sunday hunting. Dixon recommends reaching out to the Forest Service about that recommendation as well as the Wildlife Commission.
There are four public comment meetings scheduled for January, and the public comment period ends February 1st. The state Wildlife Resources Commission expects new rules to be in place by August of next year.