April 20, 2011

GEORGE SMITH: On Sundays, Mainers can't buy cars or hunt (even on own land)

George Smith

Maine's Sunday hunting prohibition was first enacted on February 28, 1883. We've been trying to correct that mistake for 127 years, without success. I don't think we'll ever hunt on Sundays in Maine because -- well, because we haven't since 1883.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the Easter church service on Sunday. I wouldn't be hunting that day anyway. But it would be nice to hunt turkeys on a few Sundays in May.

Rep. Stacy Fitts. R-Pittsfield, thinks so, too. He's been relentless in submitting Sunday hunting bills during his four legislative terms. If this were a horse race, we would credit Fitts for entering, yet again, the best horse in the race, still hoping for victory. His latest bill would authorize Sunday hunting on your own land. That seems very compelling to me.

I purchased my Mount Vernon woodlot for the specific purpose of keeping it undeveloped so I could hunt there. Yet I am denied the opportunity to enjoy this purpose on my own land one day each week. This doesn't seem fair to me, to put it mildly.

This prohibition hurts us economically -- the nearby states of New Hampshire, Vermont and New York all offer Sunday hunting and steal our hunters (both resident and nonresident) who like to hunt on both days of a weekend. The national hunting magazines have punished and pummeled our state for its lack of Sunday hunting opportunity.

I'm not the only one who recognizes this problem. In 2005, when Gov. John Baldacci made a serious effort to authorize Sunday hunting, the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel published an editorial, "Time for Maine to End Ban on Sunday Hunting."

I respect the right of private landowners to tell me they don't want me to hunt on their property on Sundays -- or any other day. What I'm looking for is respect for my right to do what I want on my own private land.

I've worked over the last two decades for two initiatives that I thought held particularly great promise. One would have allowed Sunday hunting for small game in the unorganized territories.

The other would have authorized Sunday hunting on the hunter's own land.

Both bills suffered the inevitable defeats.

When the Legislature's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee teed up four more Sunday hunting bills on April 11, I told committee members that I've given up, convinced that Maine will stubbornly cling to this Sunday hunting prohibition until it stands alone. Today, just seven states refuse to allow this popular outdoor activity to be enjoyed on Sundays.

You probably know that the only things you can't do on Sundays in Maine are buy a car and hunt. Auto dealers don't want to work on Sunday. Many of us do desire to hunt on Sundays.

But we are far from united in this desire, and that's part of the problem. I generally found the members of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine to be divided, with 60 percent fiercely wanting Sunday hunting and 40 percent opposed for a wide range of reasons from religious to fear that landowners would post more land.

I do think if we ever get Sunday hunting, few will notice that we're out there hunting on that day, especially if it doesn't include deer hunting. For all other species, the number of hunters is small. Most species see less than 20,000 hunters. That's less then the population of Augusta, spread over an entire hunting season and all over the state.

If Sunday hunting were authorized, it might quickly be accepted just as Sunday shopping was.

Up into the 1980s, Maine people were prohibited from shopping on Sundays in all but the smallest stores. After a hard-fought referendum campaign, Mainers voted to allow Sunday shopping in all stores -- but only by the narrow margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

Almost half the voters didn't want Sunday shopping. Today, few would give up their opportunity to buy groceries and other goods on Sunday. Perhaps Sunday hunting would follow the same path -- controversial at the start -- but widely accepted after a brief transitional period.

Alas, I don't believe we'll ever find out because nothing has changed. We have another governor who supports Sunday hunting. The hunting community remains divided on the issue. Groups that represent landowners are still strongly united and outspokenly against Sunday hunting.

Same race. Same horses. Same result. I am afraid we're beating a dead horse here. Happy Easter.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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