Sunday Hunting by Don H. Meredith © 2007
(first published in the October 2007 Alberta Outdoorsmen
and a revised version published in the 2008 Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations)
It is an issue that is raised every year on Internet bulletin boards, letters to the editor and phone calls to government: "Why can't I hunt on Sunday in my favorite hunting area?" "Why in the 21st century are we still following 19th century religious laws in this province?" "If you can work, shop, fish and go to the bar on Sunday, why can't you hunt?"
Of course, you can hunt on Sunday in Alberta, just not in all areas, including most areas near our major population centres. A quick look at the "2007 Wildlife Management Unit Map" inserted in the 2007 Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations shows that Sunday hunting is allowed in over half of the province. The problem is that with the exceptions of a few Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in the central foothills, most Sunday hunting is found north of Edmonton. If you are a resident of Lethbridge or Medicine Hat, you must drive a substantial distance to hunt on a Sunday. Even from Calgary or Edmonton, to hunt on Sunday can require considerable driving time, depending on where you wish to hunt.
Why is this an issue? If you work a traditional workweek, as many of us do, the weekend may be your only time to get out. If half of that weekend is taken away, you may feel short-changed. Likewise on a longer term hunting trip, having to withdraw each Sunday of the week may seem like a waste of valuable time.
To understand why Sunday hunting became such an issue, I think it is important to look at its history. First of all, it is not just an Alberta issue. No Sunday hunting is found in various forms across North America. In 1903, before Alberta became a province, the Northwest Territorial Government passed a Game Ordinance that, among other things, prohibited hunting on a Sunday across the territories, which included what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan. After Alberta became a province in 1905, it passed its first Game Act in 1907, which superseded the 1903 ordinance but kept the prohibition against Sunday hunting across the province.
In those early years, no Sunday hunting most likely had a large religious component. The majority of residents were Christians who respected the various churches' designation of Sunday being a day of rest and worship. Even if a person wasn't a regular church goer, he or she most likely appreciated the day off, even if it did not involve hunting. Since that time, attitudes have become more liberal. Instead of working six days a week, most of us work five. Churches don't have the power over society they once had. Indeed, the immigration of non-Christians into our society has forced secular governments to consider the needs of other religions who may not consider Sunday a holy day. Many workers do not work a "standard" workweek, and may take their time off in the middle of the week. As a result, Sunday is just another day of the week to many people, including people from Christian backgrounds.
However, traditions die hard, and it is much easier to pass a law than it is to change or repeal one. Indeed, many landowners appreciate not having to deal with hunters requesting permission to hunt at least one day a week. Since the law already denies hunting on Sunday, why change it?
Well, change it has. In large part led by local clubs of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, hunters began lobbying government to repeal Sunday hunting as early as the 1920s. However, progress was painfully slow. It was not until 1969 that the government finally relented and opened big game to Sunday hunting in all of the Green Area of old Big Game Zone 1 in northern Alberta (roughly north of Peace River, Slave Lake and Athabasca), plus WMUs 440, 442 and 445 in the northern mountains (Willmore Wilderness; note: these and other WMUs have since been subdivided). The "Green Area" is forested Crown land; so the government did not have to deal with private landowners or municipalities to open these areas.
In 1970 Sunday hunting was extended to include upland game birds in the same area opened in 1969. The Sunday hunting area itself was expanded in 1973 to include the Green Area of foothill WMUs 350 and 352, east of the Willmore Wilderness. In 1978 a further expansion included the Green Area portions of many of the remaining WMUs between the Willmore Wilderness and old Big Game Zone 1, except the White Area (agriculture lands) in WMUs in the Peace RiverGrande Prairie areas. For the first time a Sunday Hunting map was included in the regulations guide for 1978. Waterfowl was finally added to the game that could be hunted in Sunday hunting areas in 1987. (Thanks to Ken Lungle of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development for providing some of this early historic information.)
No further additions to the Sunday hunting area were made until 1995, when an island of Sunday hunting was provided in mountain WMUs east of Banff and Jasper National parks (420-428, 430-437), increasing opportunities for hunters in the Red Deer and Calgary areas. This island was expanded in 2003 to include some foothill and additional mountain WMUs.
The Sunday hunting area was further expanded northwest of Edmonton in 2004 to fill in Grande PrairiePeace RiverFort Vermilion WMUs and included much agricultural land. And finally this year (2007) Sunday hunting was expanded south of Lac La Biche to Two Hills, again in the White Area.
These additions over the decades were not made out of the goodness of the government's heart. They were won after hunters waged hard fought battles that included lobbying both provincial and municipal governments. The Alberta Fish and Game Association led the charge. As former AFGA president, Randy Collins, described the process to me: "various resolutions from numerous affiliated clubs have been brought forward to the annual AFGA conferences, some asking for a province-wide change to accept Sunday hunting and others that wanted specific areas of the province opened up." If passed (and most were), these resolutions were forwarded to the provincial government where the Fish and Wildlife Division took them under advisement.
It was such resolutions and associated lobbying that finally convinced the provincial government to at least open the north to Sunday hunting in areas where there were no landowners to complain. The government has been reluctant to grant province-wide Sunday hunting because of the political backlash that would occur from landowners and municipalities. What has been more effective is individual fish and game clubs lobbying their local municipalities and the provincial government to open WMUs in their areas. "A great example of how this works is what happened in the Bonnyville area over the past number of years," said Collins. "The Beaver River Fish and Game club not only brought a resolution to the annual conference, but also approached the local government and presented an educated and informed argument about the benefits Sunday hunting would bring to the area." As a result, Sunday hunting was expanded in that area of the province.
There is still much work to be done in southern Alberta. If you hunt in that portion of the province and want to do so on Sundays, you should become involved with the local fish and game clubs that can probably use your help.
(Note: In 2008, the ban on Sunday hunting was lifted across the province for game birds and in most of the province for big game. You cannot hunt on Sunday for big game only in a small portion of southeast Alberta.)
© Don H. Meredith 2007 Any reproduction of this work, in whole or part, in any media is prohibited unless expressly granted by the author. For more information, see the copyright notice.