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Jared Bornstein is an avid outdoorsman, lobbyist and the executive director of Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting. He lives in Skowhegan.
A lawsuit filed to undo an age-old statute that bans the taking of game on Sundays alleges that the recently adopted “Right to Food” constitutional amendment invalidates the Sunday hunting ban that has been on the books since 1883. Some worry this will lead to more landowners posting their land. Others fear their one “safe” day in the woods in November will be taken away, while others claim that the hunting seasons will be shortened.
The suggestion that more land will be posted is probably one of the most prevalent arguments against Sunday hunting. The data indicates otherwise.
In 2021, the Legislature mandated that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife conduct a survey of Mainers to understand their feelings around Sunday hunting. During this survey landowners were asked some access questions. One of the questions was “If Sunday hunting were allowed in Maine during established hunting seasons would you be; more likely to allow access to hunting, more likely to continue allowing the same level of access for hunting or more likely to restrict access to hunting. The landowners were split into crosstabs of their current level of access; always (87 respondents), Often (30), Sometimes (41), Rarely (33) and Never (61). Of the 87 “always” respondents, 64 percent said they would continue to allow the same level of access while an additional 10 percent are more likely to allow access. That’s 74 percent of the land that is currently always accessible remaining constant or increasing in access levels. Similarly, for those who often allow access (30 respondents) 61 percent say the land will remain the same level. This data rebuts the argument that much more land will get posted if Sunday hunting is allowed.
As for safety, non-hunters walking in the woods with hunters remain safe. There have been three non-hunter deaths in Maine in 30 years. That is less than yearly numbers for boating, driving and walking on Maine roads. This fear is severely misplaced.
Who is in the woods with hunters in large numbers during hunting season? Other hunters. Hunters have the same safety interest that non-hunters do. The hunting community should do a better job showcasing and educating non-hunters on how safe hunting is, and the non-hunting community should base their opinions on data instead of anecdotes about hearing a shot off in the distance during their walk.
Assertions that the hunting seasons will be shortened with the advent of Sunday hunting in Maine is misplaced, but well intended. Maine routinely is not meeting its harvest goals for deer and bear. Sundays actually would help the state manage these herds in that respect.
As for other species, like migratory waterfowl, which are regulated federally, in other states Sundays have been shown to have a harvest number more similar to a weekday rather than a Saturday. The days the federal government gives Maine for a quota are very likely to stay the same, so while the calendar season may be shortened, the number of days remain constant.
All hunting regulations are unlikely to be invalidated, which would be inconsistent with the language of the amendment. I believe the amendment is clear about things you cannot do in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food. The operative language in the amendment as it relates to IF&W regulations are “as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching, or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food.”
This language essentially empowers IF&W to regulate Maine’s natural resources on the basis of biology. IF&W officials have said that Sunday hunting is not a biological issue. Testifying in opposition to LD 1033, a bill to allow some Sunday hunting, in 2021, Jim Connolly, the resource management director at IF&W, told the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee: “In conclusion I would say this information reinforces this as a social issue not a biological discussion.”
I find it offensive for commenters to suggest this case is frivolous. Since 1909, many Mainers who work for a living have been asking the Legislature to end this law. Working Mainers deserve the same right to harvest food as those Mainers who can afford to take weekdays off to be successful in the woods. The Maine that I know wants everyone to be treated equally, whatever their income level. That means ending the unjust ban on Sunday hunting.