For the first time in more than 150 years, Sunday hunting is allowed again on public lands in North Carolina.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has lifted the long-standing Sunday hunting ban on most public lands across the state — including the Pisgah National Forest and the Cold Mountain and Silver game lands here in Haywood County. Shooting a gun is still forbidden on public lands between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., however.

The move has been a longtime coming for hunters who have spent years advocating for the ban to go.

“It’s hard to put into words how excited I am,” said Tyler Ross, a hunter who lives in Leicester and serves as the vice-chairman of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers state chapter. “I can’t tell you how many times I’d be in the woods and have to walk out on Saturday night or Sunday morning because I couldn’t legally be there anymore.”

Ross said the Sunday hunting ban wasn’t in tune with today’s world of busy work and family schedules. And although the Sunday hunting ban had previously been lifted for private lands, the ban on public lands wasn’t equitable for working stiffs without their own property to hunt on.

“It came across as a very have versus have-not. For a lot of your blue-collar-hunting-with-papaw’s-rifle deer hunters, you have now doubled their season,” Ross said of the extra weekend day..

Lifting the ban also will help rekindle the passing on of hunting traditions, which have waned among youth.

“We can leave after school on Friday, and I can take them to my favorite places and have that time in the woods with them through Sunday,” said Ross, whose sons are 4 and 8. “It provides more of an opportunity for those who chose to engage that way on the landscape.”

North Carolina had been among the last bastions still clinging to a Sunday hunting ban, a remnant of so-called “blue laws” that restrict certain activities on Sundays thought to run counter to church attendance.

The Sunday hunting ban still remains in place during church hours, requiring hunters to hold their fire between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Ross said he understands the rationale of not wanting guns going off within earshot of church, but he thinks a buffer around churches would be a more tailored approach.

“If you are on the backside of Max Patch or down in Harmon’s Den out in Fines Creek, if you shoot your (rifle) at 10:45 on a Sunday you aren’t going to impact the worship of anybody,” Ross said.

Over the past few years, the Wildlife Commission had incrementally lifted bits and pieces of the Sunday hunting ban — initially allowing only bow hunting on private land, and later gun hunting on private land.

However, the Wildlife Commission tread gingerly on whether to go the full mile and allow hunting on public lands, conducting two statewide studies and public listening sessions leading up to the decision. The Wildlife Commission held yet another round of public input in January and got over 1,500 comments.

During the various rounds of public input over the past few years, the chief opponents to Sunday hunting wasn’t from the religious community, but from hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who wanted one day a week where they wouldn’t have to worry about crossing paths with hunters.

A compromise was reached by lifting the Sunday hunting ban for 75% of the state’s 2.1 million acres of public lands, while leaving the ban in place for public lands closer to urban areas that are more popular with hikers and mountain bikers, including Green River game land in Henderson County, Sandy Mush in Buncombe County and Headwaters game land.

Hunting is not allowed at all in national parks like the Smokies or Blue Ridge Parkway.

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