We’ll never hunt on Sundays in Maine. On April 25, 2011, the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee unanimously killed LD 910, sponsored by Rep. Stacey Fitts, a bill that would have authorized landowners to hunt on their own land on Sundays. It was the best Sunday hunting bill of that session, and the last serious attempt at the legislature to authorize Sunday hunting.
Here’s a question for you: What is allowed in 46 other states, but never in Maine? Answer: Hunting on Sunday. Thirty nine states allow it in all hunting seasons, another 7 allow it in some seasons and circumstances, and only four, including Maine, prohibit Sunday hunting in all seasons.
Here’s why I’m pessimistic about Sunday hunting. Almost every member of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee hunts. And every member is an advocate for sportsmen. Yet not a single one was willing to support Stacey Fitts’ bill giving us this very limited Sunday hunting opportunity.
And we were in the midst of a legislative session where the rights of landowners was driving much of the agenda, including rollbacks in many environmental laws. Sunday hunting on your own land seems very compelling to me.
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. This doesn’t seem fair to me, to put it mildly.
Last legislative session, there was a bill to authorize the hunting of coyotes on Sunday. And another to allow Sunday hunting with the landowner’s written consent. None of these are new ideas.
Only the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine testified in favor of these bills. Executive Director Dave Trahan asked the Inland Fisheries and Committee, “to authorize some Sunday hunting.” He offered several possibilities, including allowing coyote hunting from 11:59 pm on Saturday to sunrise on Sunday, Sunday hunting for waterfowl, and Sunday hunting during the muzzleloading deer season. None won the support of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.
What They Said
Perhaps it would helpful to tell you who said what last session on Sunday hunting bills.
Jon Olson, executive director of The Maine Farm Bureau, reported, “I have been lobbying for the Maine Farm Bureau since the 110th Legislature back in 1981. Since then 30 Sunday hunting bills were introduced and defeated.” Jon provided the entire list. “There has been a long standing 140-year-old tradition that is unique to this great state. This tradition has maintained a successful balance between landowners and hunters.”
SWOAM’s executive director, Tom Doak, testified, “There is no single issue that would change the relationship between Maine landowners and hunters; between hunters and the general public; and between hunters themselves, than Sunday hunting. There is no single issue that would result in more loss of access to private land, for all purposes, than Sunday hunting.”
Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, said it’s interesting that we continue to have this debate. He spoke of the fact that the wildlife belongs to the people while they live on land of private landowners. He said sportsmen can’t afford to aggravate or alienate landowners. And for that reason, these bills need to be defeated.
Bob Meyers, of the Maine Snowmobile Association, spoke against the bills, as did Patrick Strauch of the Maine Forest Products Council. Both focused on the possible alienation of private landowners.
Maine’s Sunday hunting prohibition was first enacted on February 28, 1883. We’ve been trying to correct that mistake ever since, without success. I don’t think we’ll ever hunt on Sundays in Maine because – well, because we haven’t since 1883.
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 on both days of a weekend. The national hunting magazines have punished and pummeled our state for its lack of Sunday hunting.
And I’m not the only one who recognizes this problem. In 2005, at my request on behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Governor John Baldacci made a serious effort to authorize Sunday hunting. And the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel published an editorial, “Time for Maine to End Ban on Sunday Hunting.”
Governor Baldacci actually including Sunday hunting in his 2-year budget, but when the hearing on that proposal was scheduled in front of the Appropriations Committee, I was the only proponent, speaking for SAM. Opponents included the Maine Bowhunters Association, Maine Snowmobile Association, and Maine Professional Guides Association as well as all the landowner groups.
During my 18 years at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I advocated for two initiatives that I thought held particularly great promise. One would have allowed Sunday hunting for small game in the unorganized territories. The other would have authorized Sunday hunting on your own land. Both bills suffered the inevitable defeats.
One of the first bills I ever submitted was the bill to hunt on Sundays in the north woods, and it was supported by the North Woods group that manages 3 million acres. By the next session, that group changed its position and no longer supported Sunday hunting.
And here’s the rest of the problem. Sportsmen are far from united on this issue. I generally found the members of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to be divided 60-40 with 60 percent fiercely wanting Sunday hunting and 40 percent opposed for a wide range of reasons from religious to fear that landowners would post more land.
Today in Maine there is a sportsmen’s group organized to advocate for Sunday hunting, and another to oppose Sunday hunting.
All groups that represent landowners, including the powerful Maine Farm Bureau and Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, strongly oppose Sunday hunting. We spend most of our hunting time on land that is privately owned. So the opposition of these groups is very significant and must be respected.
Unless and until landowners agree to give hunters this special privilege, we won’t be hunting on Sundays in Maine. Ever.