Vincent Van Gogh once said, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange.” That’s just not true when it comes to Sunday hunting in Maine. There’s a lot of blue [laws] here, and a lack of [hunter] orange because of it. And with that lack of hunter orange, comes a lack of the color green- in the form of dollars to our rural Maine economy.
I want to say at the outset of this piece- I have always been and will always be an advocate for private landowners. I respect private landowners and appreciate everything they do for recreational users here in Maine. I do think, however, that there is a case to be made for winning over the hearts and minds of private landowners, and garnering their support for modest, well thought out Sunday hunting ban repeal in Maine.
Sunday hunting has been prohibited in Maine since 1883. Since the early 1980’s more than 30 Sunday hunting proposals have made their way to the Maine Legislature with no success. To be clear, overcoming this prohibition will no doubt mean that we have to win over the hearts and minds of landowners, sportsmen, and the public alike. I think winning over those minds can and should be done prior to any legislative action, and I think that can be accomplished.
According to the Coalition to Lift Bans on Sunday Hunting, only 11 states currently prohibit or restrict hunting on Sunday- Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. In Maine, our law is a clear prohibition of Sunday hunting.
According to the same coalition, the economic benefit of lifting our ban on Sunday hunting could mean creating or sustaining almost 2,000 jobs and over $45,000,000 in direct and indirect wages. That’s not chump-change, especially in Maine’s rural economy, and it has to be factored into the calculus of repealing Maine’s Sunday hunting prohibition. Can you imagine if we could replace the workforce of two closed paper mills with workers in restaurants, sporting goods retailers, convenience stores and others?
I am an avid hunter. Many weekends in the fall are spent with good friends at hunting camp, about an hour and a half from home. Every time I pack up to leave for camp I spend a significant amount of money preparing myself for the time away. $100 in gas, $20 for propane, $100 in groceries, a $20 box of ammo, a new pair of gloves or a hunting seat. You get the point, it all adds up. To further support my thinking, most of my purchases are made as I travel through rural communities on my way to camp. I like to stop at the local shops, it’s part of the experience, and I’m not alone. How would these communities feel if the thousands of sportsmen just like me decided to spend an extra day in their neighborhood? The economic benefits can only be positive.
The dynamics of the debate regarding Sunday hunting are interesting. For a decade, I have watched sportsmen groups, other outdoor recreation groups, and landowners all line up in opposition to Sunday hunting. In the past, that may have been for good reason. These groups, and rightfully so, don’t want to disturb the delicate balance of Maine’s open access tradition. That is, the privilege we have of accessing millions of acres of non-posted land because private landowners allow us to. To date, nobody has truly spent time educating the public or the Legislature about the benefits of Sunday hunting. We haven’t been willing to have a serious discussion with landowners about how we could establish Sunday hunting without negative impacts to them. But it’s high time we did.
The benefits of Sunday hunting are many-fold. I think about guides and outfitters who could attract clientele that experience seven day per week hunting in many other states. It’s common sense that an extra day in the woods means that much more opportunity to bag your game. Increased success increases the probability of a more positive experience for customers, hopefully increasing the chance of them becoming returning customers. In 2016, legalizing Sunday hunting would have meant more than 20 extra hunting days for clients in pursuit of moose, grouse, deer, bear, bobcats and other species. What would 20 extra days of paying clients mean for sporting camps and guides? We often think about strategies to bring more hunters to Maine, and I can’t think of a more effective tool than giving existing Maine hunters an excuse to spend another day in the woods- especially if it is with a professional Maine guide or while they are staying at one of our historic sporting camps.
I also think about the benefits for landowners. In the north, millions of acres of private land are managed by an entity called North Maine Woods. They manage a gate-fee access system to some of the most splendid areas of the state. Their revenue depends on visitors, and adding an extra day to their stay would only mean more revenue to their bottom line, which helps keep that land open and accessible for the public to enjoy. For all landowners, I think a well thought out Sunday hunting proposal could mean more money for landowner relations programs. The far majority of hunters that I speak with would be happy to pay a bit extra for a hunting license in exchange for the opportunity to hunt on Sundays. That extra revenue could be dedicated to a program to help address concerns of private landowners who allow the public access to recreate on their property.
Breaking down barriers to hunting- increasing access to the sport- also increases the chances of recruiting new hunters. The future of hunting in Maine and the health of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are dependent on new hunters. Breaking down the barrier of not being able to hunt on Sunday’s increases opportunity for more people to try and participate in the sport of hunting.
The bottom line is this: hunting is an extremely safe form of recreation and I believe Sunday hunting can coincide with a positive relationship with private landowners. It will no doubt have a positive impact on the rural economy. It’s time to end the antiquated discussions about past Sunday hunting proposals, and start a new dialogue about how ending this longstanding blue law can benefit private landowners and rural economies in the future.