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Hunting For Sabbath

Jeff Ell Small“You know you can’t hunt in Virginia on Sunday Dad.”

My oldest daughter was sitting at the breakfast table with the State of Virginia Hunting and Trapping Regulations pamphlet open in front of her. She was sipping coffee, and looking well pleased with herself.

“That’s crazy, let me see that.” I grabbed it from her and looked at the place on the page where she was pointing. I read the law. It was the very first commandment of all the hunting commandments. I read it again just to be sure, and it still read:

“It is unlawful to: hunt wild birds and wild animals with firearms or other weapons on Sunday…”

I swallowed hard. My mind retracing autumn Sunday afternoons since moving to Virginia. My mind began to run wild with newspaper headlines and salacious website banners heralding the juicy news that a preacher was busted for hunting after church.

“Poaching Preacher Pleads Ignorance.” “Clergyman Cited for Sabbath Sin”. I imagined my head and arms locked in the pillory of public opinion while vegans pelt me with rotten vegetables and a scarlet P is sewn onto my camouflaged clothes.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that I ever hunted on Sunday. I’m just saying I didn’t know the law when I moved here, and if I had ever hunted on a Sunday it would have been an innocent mistake, and that I’m pretty sure there are not incriminating pictures of me next to any deer that I may or may not have taken on a Sunday. For the record, now that I know the law, I don’t hunt on Sunday, not that I’m confessing I ever did hunt on Sunday.

Listen, I’m a preacher, so not being able to hunt on Sunday is not that big a deal to me. For more than half the day I’m usually in church doing the thing I was created to do. But for some of my friends the ‘thou shalt not hunt on Sunday’ commandment is a much bigger deal. Especially the guys I know who work six days a week; those guys either don’t hunt much, or have to use their vacation days to do so.

Thursday is my day off, my Sabbath day. Do I hunt on the Sabbath you might ask? You can bet your waterproof boots I do. It’s one of the perks of being a full time pastor. My Sabbath is a day when the woods and water where I recreate are usually less crowded because folks with regular jobs are working.

When I lived in a state that allows Sunday hunting; I worked full time in the construction trades in addition to pastoring a church. I was grateful that I could take a nap on a Sunday afternoon, and then go off and hunt for a couple hours and find some Sabbath for my tired body and soul.

As you already know I’m a late comer to this issue. I’m also not sure how many preachers have already thrown their clerical collars into the ring and actually offered their expert opinions on an issue that seems tailor made for hunting preachers like myself to weigh in on.

So with your permission I’m going to climb into my tree stand pulpit and do a little preaching about hunting. First, I point my bony finger at myself. As the Bible says “Judgment begins in the house of the Lord” (I Peter 4:17).

If the day ever comes that I need or want the governments help to keep hunters in church on Sunday morning, I will resign faster than a ten pointer that has been spooked from its’ bed. In my opinion any preacher with a message so insipid that they want, or need to keep hunting outlawed on Sundays to keep hunters in the pews; should be thinking about pursuing souls with a higher caliber message.

Lest you think I’m not practicing what I preach, you should know that my first church was in a rural hamlet where farming and logging were a major part of the local economy. A place where hunting, fishing, and even trapping were part of most men’s, and a few women’s recreational pursuits. One year I went as far as to suggested we have a Blessing Of The Guns Service on the Sunday before opening day, but the deacons talked me out of it.

I’ll admit that attendance on the first Sunday of hunting season was sometimes a bit lean. Occasionally the wives and moms of hunters would get a bit miffed at their families absence and whine to me about it after the service. My response was “Sister, there are a lot worse things your husband and sons could be getting into.” To be honest, there were Sundays when I was even a little jealous that those guys got to go hunting when I had to be at work.

Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.

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