Sunday hunting in Maine is probably the single most debated topic for hunters and nonhunters. During the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Committee meeting last week, there was a lot of discussion around why Maine needs to join the growing number of states reversing these old blue laws. It was clear that Sunday hunting (in the Committee’s minds) is really deer hunting in November and that is what they focused on as they discussed the proposed bills.
The Proposed Bills
There are three Sunday hunting bills; LD1212, LD1054 and LD1033 currently being discussed in Committee. LD1212 sets geographical boundaries for where Sunday hunting can occur (north of Route 2/Route 9) while LD1054 and LD1033 set the requirement for written permission from the landowner. Maine currently allows hunters to hunt on private land that is not posted, without needing landowner permission.
No Clear Way Forward
Representative Lester Ordway, who sponsored LD1212, was the first to bring up the North Vs South argument, “The only people against this are small land owners in Southern Maine. No one I have talked to in Northern Maine is against this.” I have lived in Southern Maine and there are plenty of hunters who are desperate for that additional day in the woods. Likewise, I know plenty of people in Northern Maine who are happy with our six day hunting week.
“There is a fear of consequences,” Senator Chip Curry said, “People have been told that landowners will post their land and if you need written permission for one day, who is to say that it won’t move towards needing written permission for all hunting. And as a result, will there be a drop in access?” Hunters that do not own land should be paying attention. These LDs could allow hunting on Sundays but also create access through reverse posting. Gone would be the days of seeing an unposted field and being able to get out and hunt. Every hunter would need written permission to hunt on land that they didn’t own. Given that Maine is 96% privately owned, landowners hold a lot of power with limiting hunting access.
Commissioner Judy Camuso reminded the Committee of the work that has been done with landowners, “The Department has worked very hard to improve landowner relations. We have heard from a lot of them that they don’t want Sunday hunting. If we go back to them and ask them again, this could move us back and I’m cautious about jeopardizing those relationships.”
Representative Ordway said multiple times throughout the discussion that Maine is falling behind with recruiting hunters and that without the ability to hunt on Sundays, hunters will choose to go elsewhere – taking their dollars with them. According to the Commissioner that is wrong. Maine was one of the top five states for license sales in 2020, which helped the Department reach it’s 10 year goal in just 12 months. The lack of Sunday hunting was not an obstacle for people who wanted to get outside and hunt.
The Committee resolved that IFW would organize a stakeholder’s group to get input on Sunday hunting. The group will be made up of organizations like Maine Woodland Owners, the Farm Bureau, the NRA, hunters and non-hunters with land and without. “If this moves ahead, once the Commissioner and the office puts together this group, they might find common ground” said Representative Danny Martin hopefully.
Time will tell if the proposed bills move out of committee. I am predicting that the stakeholder’s group will come back and say that the majority of people like things the way they are and Sunday hunting will be off the table. Many hunters, guides, organizations and landowners are ok with the way things are. I am not sure what would have to happen in order to change the current six day hunting week. We will see how things evolve over the next few weeks.