AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee on Monday shot down three bills to allow limited Sunday hunting in Maine, but spared a fourth one, which would allow private landowners to hunt on their own properties.
But given the Legislature’s pattern of votes over at least a generation, and a lack of enthusiasm for the latest attempt to ease the ban, Maine’s long-held tradition of not allowing hunting on the Sabbath appears likely to stand.
The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted 9-0, with four members absent, to reject bills seeking to allow Sunday hunting in northern Maine, in 11 select wildlife-management districts, and for only small game and wild birds.
But the committee left alive a proposal that would allow the state to authorize private landowners to hunt on Sunday on their own property if they own 20 or more acres and the land is also open to hunting by the public. The fee for a Sunday hunting permit could not exceed $25 under the bill, which is to come up again for committee review April 25.
David Wright of Pittsfield said he supports getting “one more day to engage in the sport I love” for several reasons. Allowing Sunday hunting on his land would give him a day to spend in a traditional activity with his children, and expanding opportunities for the sport would bring more hunting-related business to the state, he said.
Wright also told the committee that he resents seeing trappers, snowmobilers and hikers using his land on Sundays, while he cannot hunt.
But the proposals found little support elsewhere. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which represents thousands of hunters and anglers, declared its neutrality because its own membership is divided on the issue.
The state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department opposes the three bills that were also rejected by the committee, and took a neutral stance on the private landowner measure, even though the chief warden said it presents “numerous significant enforcement issues.”
Responding to Sunday hunting complaints by people who do not know that a landowner is hunting “will take up a significant amount of a game warden’s time,” said Col. Joel Wilkinson, chief of the Maine Warden Service. “Game wardens will be required to make field decisions regarding land ownership, identification of individuals and relationship to the landowner, tract, size and lot location.”
While Maine farmers are divided on a number of legislative issues, they are unified in opposition to Sunday hunting, said Jon Olson of the Maine Farm Bureau Association. In the last three decades alone, 23 bills seeking Sunday hunting in some form have been introduced and defeated, preserving a 130-year tradition that maintains a balance between hunters and landowners, he said.
“Sunday is the day when landowners can enjoy their land taking long walks, riding their horses, working on their land and allowing non-hunting recreation without the fear of hunters nearby,” Olson said.
Wildlife organizations, including the Wildlife Alliance of Maine and The Humane Society, also testified against the bills, labeling them a “gateway” that could lead to an all-out repeal of the Sunday hunting ban.