After voters gave their blessing, Sundays will be fair game for West Virginians to hunt on some private lands in five more counties.
According to unofficial results, voters passed a referendum Tuesday to give private landowners in Braxton, Calhoun, Nicholas, Webster and Wirt counties the option to open up their property to Sunday hunting. It won’t add the Sunday before the Monday start of big game seasons, like deer, bear, turkey and boar.
Lawmakers dropped a Sunday ban in 2001, but gave counties the option to hold their own referendums on the issue. The following year, all 41 counties that put the question on their ballots voted to ban it.
The old blue law prohibiting Sunday hunting dealt more with religious observances than safety concerns, said state Division of Natural Resources spokesman Hoy Murphy.
This election, Sunday hunting advocate Cory Boothe was able to get the question on ballots in seven counties where the practice was banned. Gilmer and Lewis county voters rejected the proposal.
“I would’ve have really enjoyed seven for seven,” Boothe said. “But yes, I’m satisfied. I’m just satisfied that people who work five-six days a week have the opportunity to use their own land.”
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said state lawmakers are happy leaving the decision up to counties.
There hasn’t been a similar push to open up public lands for Sunday hunting, Murphy said.
Boothe, a Summersville resident, started a petition drive last year. He said he wanted to give his children the opportunity that hunters in most other states have. He focused on seven counties, a manageable number in his estimation.
The signatures of 5 percent of registered voters were required to get the measure on the ballot in each county. Boothe worked feverishly on the grassroots campaign, distributing petitions at convenience stores, bars, diners and larger employers.
“If I knew a coal miner, I’d give him a petition, and hopefully two weeks later he brought by 15 signatures,” Boothe said.
Boothe suggested “a lot of misinformation” about hunting safety was the reason behind the earlier ban: People didn’t want to take a chance on getting hit by stray bullets on their land.
“Statistically, you’re more likely to be hit by lightning than killed by a hunter,” said Boothe, who also cited federal health statistics that show hiking was the third most dangerous outdoor activity.
The issue went beyond safety. Mike Johnson, manager of Johnson Sporting Goods, in Summersville, suggested many people invoked religious reasons for opposing Sunday hunting — that the day was meant for focusing on church, not for being out in the woods.
“I was raised in the church and my dad was a Baptist preacher,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with it. It’s up to the person whether they want to hunt on Sunday. I was all for it. It gives people more opportunities to enjoy the woods and the outdoors.”
Sunday hunting on public property remains illegal in all 55 counties.
Jonathan Mattise in Charleston contributed to this report.