The N.C. House of Representatives on April 28 passed Rep. Jimmy Dixon’s Outdoor Heritage Act, including a measure that would legalize hunting with firearms on Sundays in most rural areas of North Carolina.

Legislation to allow Sunday hunting has been introduced in the past but has never succeeded, but Dixon’s bill appears to have a better chance of approval after the House sent it to the N.C. Senate by an 83-35 vote.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission previously passed a resolution that supports HB 640.

Proponents have argued that 39 states allow Sunday hunting, pointing out that it would bring more income and tax money into the state and arguing that property owners should be able to use their land on Sundays as they wish. Currently, North Carolina allows Sunday hunting only with archery equipment and falcons.

The bill permits Sunday hunting with firearms in counties with populations of fewer than 700,000 people. It does not allow Sunday hunting of deer with dogs but doesn’t ban the use of dogs to hunt other wild game. It prohibits the discharge of a firearm within 500 yards of a place of worship and within 500 yards of a residence not owned by the landowner, or where hunters don’t have permission, and it prohibits hunting migratory waterfowl on Sundays. A provision to prohibit fox hunting statewide from April 1-Aug. 1 was dropped, but a ban on fox hunting at Bladen Lakes State Forest during that four-month period remains.

The bill allows individual counties to draft local laws before Oct. 1, 2017, that prohibit Sunday hunting.

Critics have lined up to oppose the bill, mostly church groups and mostly from less-populated counties in eastern North Carolina.

Robeson County’s Board of Commissioners already has passed a resolution opposing the Outdoors Heritage Act. All of the governing boards in the counties in the district of Rep. Robert Steinberg (R-Edenton) are on record as opposing Sunday hunting with firearms.

“Every hunt club in my district has said no to Sunday hunting,” Steinberg said in a news report. “The pastors of the black churches and the white churches have said no to Sunday hunting.”

Rep. Ken Waddell (D-Bladen/Columbus/Robeson) also affirmed in a news report opposition to Sunday hunting in his district.

“I know a lot of groups down here don’t want Sunday hunting,” he said. “It could be a boon for tourism here, but it also goes back to personal property rights.”

The bill also supports encouraging youths to engage in recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding, boating, sport shooting, archery, camping, hunting, trapping and fishing. A fund to promote those activities would come from voluntary $2 donations made by sportsmen who pay fees and outdoor- access fees from other groups and private donations. It also establishes an Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council in the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to advise state agencies and the legislature on the promotion of youth-oriented outdoor activities.

A provision to require N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission enforcement officers to wear body cameras while serving warrants or making arrests was dropped from the original bill.