Limited Sunday hunting is slippery issue



January 13, 2002|By CANDUS THOMSON

Whenever I need a good, common-sense talking-to, I call a man up in Carroll County.

In New Hampshire.

Henry Mock was with the Fish and Game Department there for more than three decades, starting out fresh from college and finishing up as the head of law enforcement.

As a reporter in New Hampshire for almost 11 years, I called Major Mock at all hours to talk about lost hikers, drowned fishermen, shooting accidents and poachers. I used to joke with him that I'd quit when he did.

Now Mock is making, rather than enforcing, laws. For the past 10 years, he has been a highly respected member of the state legislature. He is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and presided over the televised impeachment hearing two years ago of the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Mock knows hunting and Mock knows lawmaking. So, with Maryland lawmakers about to take up a bill that would allow limited Sunday hunting, I called him to chat.

"There were bills over the years that would have repealed Sunday hunting privileges, but they never went anywhere," he said.

Sometimes the challenge came from religious groups, sometimes it was the anti-hunting crowd. Once, it was a well-meaning group that decided the best way to reduce hunting accidents was to cut the number of opportunities people with guns had to shoot themselves or each other.

Interestingly, the one group that didn't take a run at hunting was made up of suburban Massachusetts residents who moved north of the border to take advantage of no sales or income tax and turned New Hampshire into a bedroom community for Boston.

"They just post their land," Mock said.

Even with anti-gun sentiment growing nationwide (a cause near and dear to the hearts of liberal Tax-achusetts refugees), "we haven't seen a repeal bill in years," he said.

The key, Mock said, for his state or Maryland, is education -- of hunters and landowners.

"Explain why you hunt to landowners. Tell them about hunter safety education programs. Remind hunters to ask permission, to share game, to keep the land clean," he said. "The state must be pro-active."

Only five states still have a blanket ban on Sunday hunting, and I have to admit I could make a case for either side and probably convince myself.

On the one hand, I realize that for a lot of folk who work a six-day week, Sunday is the only day they can get out deer hunting.

On the other hand, as my Washington County buddy Steve Palmer says, "If you're not good enough to shoot something in six days, what makes you think a seventh day is going to help you?"

I'm sure there are other reasons, but I'm out of hands.

Even hunters are divided. A recent informal poll by the Cumberland Times-News got 948 responses to the question: "Should Sunday hunting be allowed in the firearms deer season?" Fifty-six percent said yes and 44 percent said no.

The Maryland Sportsmen's Association is backing a Sunday hunting bill being promoted by House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr. But Palmer's group, the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, is cool to the idea.

"We realize that a lot of land is multiple use," Palmer said. "Why create enemies of people with whom you have a lot in common and who you need? There's nothing to be gained by alienating these groups."

LuAnne Levens, president of the Maryland Horse Council, opposes giving any ground on Sunday hunting. Hikers, bikers and horse riders would not be able to enter the woods without fear of being shot, she said.

"It starts with one day and then it escalates," she told the Associated Press. "We are against any -- period, zip, nada -- Sunday hunting."

And they say hunters are close-minded to compromise.

No matter what happens, let's hope Maryland avoids its neighbor's path.

West Virginia lawmakers last year passed what they thought was a compromise bill that would allow Sunday hunting only if each county approved it, too. Unfortunately, they were too smart by half, legalizing Sunday hunting across the board except where banned by county referendum. To straighten out the mess, at least seven counties have placed the question on their May 14 primary ballots.

Fishing for answers

Tomorrow night is the second of the public meetings on setting the 2002 recreational flounder season. This one will be in Annapolis, where the audience will most likely be dominated by bayside anglers and charter captains.

On Friday, Department of Natural Resources biologists met with the folks in Ocean City who catch doormats off-shore.

The crowd of about 100 at city hall was divided into two camps: recreational anglers, who favor a 17-inch minimum with a mid-summer closure of about 19 days; and the captains and tackle shop owners who prefer a 17 1/2 -inch minimum and a 10-day mid-summer closure. Both groups asked to have the closure pushed back from July to August, when other species are available for anglers.

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