It’s time to simplify Maine’s hunting and fishing laws and rules

DIF&W LogoThis is the second in a series of columns about the bills I have proposed for the 2015 legislative session.

An Act to Simplify Hunting and Fishing Laws and Rules will be sponsored by Representative Matthew Pouliot of Augusta, a great young legislator and avid sportsman.

Hunters and anglers (especially anglers) often complain about the complexity of the laws and rules governing our favorite sports. During my 18 years as Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I organized several Pickering Commissions that created lots of recommendations to simplify and clarify these laws and rules, and to get rid of those we didn’t need.

The commission was named for Cape Elizabeth Chief of Police, David Pickering, who chaired the first commission. Dave died of cancer at the age of 47 and the SAM Board honored him by naming future commissions for him.

Over the years, the commission was incredibly successful, winning strong support for its recommendations from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine legislature.

Among recommendations that were enacted was an extension of the hunting day from sunset to 30 minutes after sunset, authorization of camo orange, clarification of the prohibition of hunting on a public way (so that you could cross a paved road with a loaded firearm), allowing deer driving for small groups, and authorizing tracking of wounded deer with dogs. We even changed the definition of hunting.

Fishing laws and rules recommendations were also well received, including changes governing everything from the definition of a “single hook” to a reduction in special “S” codes to clarification of the trolling prohibition on fly-fishing-only waters.

Commission members were often working in the weeds, trying to get sportsmen out into the open where they could truly enjoy their outdoor activities without the burden of understanding complex laws and rules, some of which even a lawyer could not interpret. And I know that’s true because I consulted with lawyers on some of those laws and rules!

I found that even Maine game wardens differed in their interpretations of some laws and rules. And that makes sportsmen particularly vulnerable.

My last official act for SAM, completed after I had left the Executive Director’s job, was to organize and lead a Pickering Commission on hunting laws and rules in 2011. Among the most significant recommendations of that commission were those governing the hunter safety course, landowner relations program, and licenses and fees. Some of the recommendations were enacted, such as allowing the transfer of any-deer permits to any other hunter, but the most significant recommendations were not.

These included the creation of a comprehensive hunting license, and establishment of a more public process at DIF&W to regularly review and revise hunting laws.

SAM has not organized a Pickering Commission in the last four years, which has led me to propose this new approach. I’ve also proposed bills that would achieve some of the recommendations of the 2011 Pickering Commission, including the comprehensive hunting license.

This year’s bill

An Act to Simplify Hunting and Fishing Laws and Rules would establish a Commission, organized by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and led by Maine’s nonprofit organizations, to constantly review hunting and fishing laws and rules and make recommendations to simplify, clarify, or eliminate them.

This proposal includes annual surveys of anglers and hunters on key issues. The survey would be created by the Commission with input from DIF&W’s staff, and distributed to licensed hunters and anglers by DIF&W. We need to engage all of you in this process.

The goal is to institutionalize this process, broaden participation, and perform the review every year, alternating between hunting laws and rules one year and fishing laws and rules the next.

The bill would not preclude SAM’s process, which could continue from time to time as the organization felt the need.

When this bill is printed, I will alert you to it, and ask for your help in getting it enacted. And I thank Rep. Pouliot for his interest in and sponsorship of this proposal.


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,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.