Nonresident hunters – Going, Going, Gone for Good?

Will Maine ever regain the nonresident hunters it lost over the last decade? 

Realistically, probably not. On January 23 last year, the members of a legislatively authorized Nonresident Hunter Task Force presented a lengthy list of recommendations to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Like most task force reports, it flew onto the shelf to gather dust. None of the recommendations were pursued.

To prepare a news blog post prior to the presentation of the report, I read all of the public comments received by the Task Force as it worked to create a series of recommendations that might reverse the state’s sharp 60 percent decline in nonresident hunters. The most common suggestion: Sunday hunting.

But the Task Force decided not to recommend Sunday hunting – even though it might be the most effective way to attract more nonresident hunters to Maine – because Task Force members know it’s not realistic to think we’ll ever hunt on Sundays in Maine. They wanted to focus attention on recommendations that would be seen as doable.

One controversial recommendation that did make the final list is to allow nonresidents to hunt on the first day of the firearms season on deer. That has been another nonstarter at the legislature, rejected repeatedly in the past, even when the state’s largest sportsman’s group, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, championed it. “Nonresidents don’t vote,” was the response I got one year from a State Senator who voted against the bill.

Today, I would reply, “That’s true, but nonresidents used to spend a lot of money hunting deer in Maine, and now they don’t, and that has hurt many Mainers and their businesses.” The biggest gripe I got from nonresident SAM members, as SAM’s executive director, was this prohibition on hunting the first day of the deer season.

While there are specific recommendations of interest on the Task Force’s list, including giving nonresidents more moose and any-deer permits, a lot of the Task Force’s time was spent discussing what and how to market Maine hunting to nonresident hunters. One high priority recommendation calls for a lot more research “so we know what hunters want and need and can work with the tourism industry to make it happen,” as one Task Force member explained it.

The Task Force also recommends focusing on the diversity of Maine hunting experiences, with more advertising about turkey, upland bird, duck, and rabbit hunting.

I especially like the recommendation that the small game license include turkeys, eliminating the current special turkey permit and fee. That’s also a recommendation from SAM’s Pickering Commission, whose final report was released about at about the same time as the Task Force report. And I’ve submitted a bill this legislative session, sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello, to do this.

While most of the recommendations can (unfortunately) be placed in the category of wishful thinking, the most important recommendations (at least in my mind) involve marketing. The Task Force encourages DIF&W, the Tourism Office, hunting organizations, guides and outfitters, and others to work together to provide targeted, comprehensive and consistent marketing – with more funding from the legislature and administration.

One excellent suggestion: that DIF&W and the Maine Office of Tourism develop an annual marketing plan to attract more nonresident hunters to our state. This recommendation includes an excellent list of specific tasks.

Can or will any of this be done? Fourteen months after the recommendations were issued, I think you know the answer.

I promised in my January 2012 blog post to pull this excellent report and list of recommendations off the shelf a year later, and let you know if anything was accomplished. Consider this done.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.