CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A grassroots effort to legalize Sunday hunting throughout West Virginia appears to be gaining momentum.
Currently, sportsmen can legally hunt on Sundays in just 14 of the state's 55 counties. The Legislature passed a law in 2001 to make it legal statewide, but within a year voters in 41 counties voted to make it illegal again.
The 2001 law contained a provision that allows proponents or opponents of Sunday hunting to put the issue back on the ballot by getting 5 percent of the electorate to sign petitions asking for a re-vote. Opponents took advantage of that clause in 2002 and persuaded voters in more than two-thirds of the state's counties to reject the measure the Legislature had just approved.
Now a small but motivated group of hunters hopes to turn the tide.
Cory Boothe, the Nicholas County resident who spearheaded a petition-signing effort in favor of Sunday hunting, said sportsmen in Braxton, Calhoun, Gilmer, Lewis, Nicholas, Webster and Wirt counties secured "more than enough" signatures to revive the issue.
"Under the law, the county clerks in those counties were required to put Sunday hunting back on the ballot," he said. "Now it's up to the voters in the [upcoming May 13] primary to approve it."
One knock on the 2002 county-by-county votes was the language used on the ballots. It simply read, "Shall Sunday hunting be allowed in (blank) County?" Sunday-hunting proponents believe that language was far too vague.
"It should have disclosed that Sunday hunting had already been approved by the Legislature and was to take place only on private lands, and only with the written permission of the landowner," Boothe said.
Boothe and his colleagues have lobbied lawmakers to change the language, but so far haven't succeeded.
"We got a bill introduced early in the current legislative session that would have added the parts about private land and written permission," Boothe said. "The bill never went anywhere. In fact, it never even made it onto the Natural Resources Committee's agenda."
Even without a language change, Boothe believes the Sunday hunting issue stands a much greater chance to attract "yes" votes today than it did in 2002.