Around 70 people sporting camo, blaze orange, flannel shirts and ball caps filled the auditorium of Haywood Community College this week to weigh in on Sunday hunting.

The meeting was one of only six being held across the state by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to collect input on whether to lift the Sunday hunting ban on public lands. A proposal to allow Sunday hunting on public lands has been talked about for a few years, but the Wildlife Commission has proceeded cautiously.

“It’s controversial, it’s contentious, and there’s a lot that goes into this decision,” said Brian McRae, NCWRC Land and Water Access Section Chief.

The public input collected Thursday night and at similar meetings across the state will help the Wildlife Commission make a decision in time for the 2021 hunting season.

Unlike the typical public hearing where audience members take turns at the mic, the Wildlife Commission used a new method for capturing input — one that let everyone present anonymously share their views without having to stand before the crowd to speak.

Remote control polling devices were handed out to everyone who came, which allowed them to electronically respond to poll questions in real time.

The Wildlife Commission had hired a consulting team to coordinate the public input process. Brett Boston, one of the consultants with Group Solutions, worked the group through a 45-question survey to gauge opinions on Sunday hunting. Poll results were captured live and projected onscreen at the front of the room, so everyone could see how each question was being answered.

Most of the 70 in attendance were hunters, poll results showed. The vast majority in attendance voted that they ‘totally support’ allowing hunting on Sundays.

Hunters vs. non-hunters

In attempts to gather as much input as possible, the Wildlife Commission has twice polled the public about allowing Sunday hunting in the past few years.

The first poll was conducted in 2018, and 53 percent of 6,000 respondents were in favor of lifting the Sunday hunting ban.

An online survey was repeated again in 2019. A total of 30,868 people responded to that one, making for a ‘statistically awesome’ sample size, Boston said.

Of the almost 31,000 respondents, the average age was 53 years old — 86 percent male and 13 percent female. About 27,000 of those polled responded with a degree of favor either for or against Sunday hunting.

Most striking was the disparity in views between hunters and non-hunters.

• Among hunters, 74 percent supported Sunday hunting on public lands.

• Among non-hunters, 75 precent were against Sunday hunting.

Of the poll respondents who opposed Sunday hunting, be it hunters or non-hunters, reasons included religious beliefs and safety concerns.

Next steps

There is still time for the public to provide input on whether NCWRC should continue to disallow Sunday hunting on state gamelands. Two virtual meetings similar to Thursday’s meeting at HCC will be held online Monday, Feb. 17 and Thursday, Feb. 20.

After the public input meetings are finished, focus groups will be conducted among NCWRC partners such as the Audubon Society and Wild Turkey Federation, then a final report will be delivered from NCWRC staff to its commission board, which may or may not vote to enact a rule change.

Any decision by the NCWRC board would become effective August 2021, McRae said.

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