Mainers will never hunt here on Sundays

I always get a lot of inquiries in November from deer hunters asking why we can’t hunt on Sundays. Here’s my answer.

Sunday hunting was banned in Maine on February 28, 1883, and I don’t think we’ll ever hunt on Sundays here because – well, because we haven’t since 1883.

Only six states prohibit Sunday hunting, and in one of those, Virginia, Safari Club International recently filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, arguing that it is unconstitutional under both the U.S. Constitution and the Virginia Constitution that includes a right to hunt.

“Sunday hunting bans should be a thing of the past,” said SCI President Craig Kauffman. “Hunters have to work during the week, and young hunters are in school, making weekends the primary time they can hunt. The unconstitutional ban on Sunday hunting robs hunters of half their potential time afield, and has absolutely no basis in science or conservation.”

What Kauffman failed to note is the opposition to Sunday hunting from the non-hunting public and from private landowners. In Maine, even many hunters oppose it.

The Maine legislature has rejected all Sunday hunting bills in the past, including at least two that would have established a right to hunt in the state’s Constitution. However, in this year’s legislative session, a Constitutional right to hunt and fish fell just 3 votes short in the Senate of the 2/3 vote necessary to send the issue to the voters. The Senate vote on LD 1303 was 20 to 15 in favor. The proposal lost in the House, although 65 Representatives voted for it while 84 voted against it.

I was the public face for Sunday hunting for 18 years, working hard to get it for the Board and members of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine – but even at SAM, 40 percent of our members opposed Sunday hunting.

I thought two of SAM’s proposals held particularly great promise. One would have allowed Sunday hunting for small game in the unorganized territories. The other would have allowed us to hunt on Sundays on our own land. Both bills suffered the inevitable defeats.

I respect the right of private landowners to tell me they don’t want me to hunt on their property on Sundays – or any day. What I was looking for was respect for my right to do what I want on my own land.

I purchased my Mount Vernon woodlot for the specific purpose of keeping it undeveloped so I could hunt there. Yet I am denied the opportunity to enjoy this principle purpose on my own land one day each week during the hunting seasons. This didn’t seem fair to me, to put it mildly.

This prohibition hurts us economically. Our neighboring states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York all offer Sunday hunting and steal our hunters, both resident and nonresident, who like to hunt both days of a weekend. I know a very successful Portland lawyer who spends his fall weekends with his wife in New Hampshire, where they both enjoy hunting on Saturday and Sunday. The national hunting magazines have punished and pummeled our state for its lack of Sunday hunting opportunity.

The closest we ever got to victory was when Governor John Baldacci put Sunday hunting in his budget one year. Several Maine newspapers supported the Governor’s Sunday hunting initiative with strong editorials.

But at the Appropriations Committee hearing on that provision, every major group representing sportsmen – except for SAM – stood with SWOAM and other landowner groups to oppose it. Boy, did I feel alone and abandoned! It took a year to rebuild our damaged relationships and I never made another significant effort to enact Sunday hunting. And of course, the proposal was removed from the budget.

I can tell you now that it never mattered to me personally because I get plenty of opportunities to hunt. And as much as I believe I should have the right to hunt on Sundays on my own land, I now recognize the impact even that would have on my neighbors and others, and believe it would be a mistake for sportsmen to pursue this goal.

As I asked a news reporter during who called about a story he was writing two weeks ago, is there any other activity that causes the public to fear for their lives to the extent that they wear fluorescent orange just to retrieve their mail from the roadside box? That keeps them out of the woods in the fall during hunting seasons?

We have lost the privilege of access to a lot of land in Maine, and that trend will continue until all sportsmen understand that their relationships with – and respect for – private landowners is the most important element in our hunting heritage. If that means giving up on Sunday hunting, we must do it.

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.