I’ve received some nice Christmas gifts over the years, but never one this nice and never one in May instead of December. On Dec. 22, 2013, my column carried the headline “Dear Santa, Del. Beitzel.” I then wrote my Christmas wish letter asking for those of us who hunt in Almost Maryland to be able to do it on Sundays, not just this Sunday and that Sunday, but every Sunday, not just for deer, but for turkeys, squirrels, grouse, rabbits — anything that had a legal season. And, not just on private lands, but also on public lands, of which numerous acres exist in Mountain Maryland.
Instead of sending the letter only to Santa Claus, I also sent it to Del. Wendell Beitzel who spends a great deal of the year’s first four months at something called the Maryland General Assembly.
I should have sent the letter to Sen. George Edwards as well, but I had room on the page for only a two-line headline and I kind of figured he would get involved anyway. I’m certainly pleased that he did.
So, here’s what happened. Edwards and Beitzel each introduced bills that matched my wish list. They were mirror images, something called companion legislation in Annapolis-speak. They were written to apply to Garrett, Washington and Allegany counties.
Of course the legislation was not introduced just because my letter reached the North Pole and the capital of Maryland. Many other hunters wanted to be legally afield on Sundays as well. You know, those who work Monday through Saturday. Those who spend Saturdays running back and forth to their children’s soccer or football games. Those whose relatives and friends who hunt can only make it to Almost Maryland on Sundays. And, of course, those who objected to being the only folks whose avocation/ lifestyle/hobby was legally forbidden on Sundays.
The Senate bill and the House bill passed easily, but nothing is official in The Great State of Merlun (read that in the voice of Louis Goldstein, the state’s late comptroller who God-blessed everybody real good) until signed by the governor. Well, on May 15, Gov. Martin O’Malley put his signature on the Senate bill and Sunday hunting in the state’s hinterlands was approved. Because the House bill was duplicative, it was not needed and was vetoed.
Understand, ladies and gentlemen, whether you hunt or not, that this is historic stuff we are talking about.
Hunting on Sundays has been prohibited from Crisfield to Friendsville since Maryland’s infancy. Those of us who grew into hunting age inside Maryland’s state lines simply accepted the fact that you could not hunt on Sundays, not knowing that in 80 percent of the states it was perfectly fine and legal to drop a ring-necked pheasant or a white-tailed deer on a Sunday.
It wasn’t until my wife and I moved to Utah in 1968 that I realized others saw no evil lurking in Sunday hunting. And, believe me, you will not find a state any more religiously oriented that Utah.
I bring up religion because Maryland’s original prohibition was blue-law based. I am sure there are many of you who remember that you could not shop in Maryland on Sundays as recently as three decades ago. After all, money used to purchase a dress on Sunday is not money going into the tithing basket.
As I understand the law, the Department of Natural Resources, via its Wildlife & Heritage Service, will now incorporate legal Sunday hunting into the various game species seasons. The exception will be migratory bird seasons, such as mourning doves and waterfowl, which are established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The most recent interpretation I have of the law is that it will legalize Sunday hunting not only on private lands, but on stateowned wildlife management areas. Sunday hunting will not become legal on state forests or state parks, I have been told.
Interestingly, there was no religious opposition to the legislation. Also interestingly, there was no opposition from the Animal Righteous Folks (ARF). The opposition came from equestrian groups who wanted to be able to hunt foxes on Sundays, but didn’t want people to hunt deer, squirrels or turkeys on Sundays. These folks, according to letters and testimony I’ve read, fictionalized some sort of conflict between those who hunt on horseback and those who tote .22 caliber rifles or 12 gauge shotguns in search of squirrels or rabbits.
When is the last time you saw an equestrian fox-chase on Warrior Mountain or Billmeyer wildlife management areas, or on private lands along Town Creek or in some Garrett County meadow alongside Interstate 68.
I anticipate that when hunting on Sundays soon is a reality from Wagner’s Crossroads on the East to Asher Glade on the West that more cash from nimrods will be spent in the convenience stores, motels, gas stations, restaurants and honky tonks of Almost Maryland. Some of that moola will likely come from our hunting brethren in the central, southern and far eastern portions of Merlun, hon. Some will come from nonresidents in Pennsylvania and West Virginia who know a good thing when they see it.
I wish everyone some happy Sunday hunts this coming fall.
Deck the halls. The milk and cookies are on me.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at email@example.com.