PORTLAND, Maine — Some states are steadily eliminating long-standing bans on Sunday hunting, and there is an effort to overturn the laws in Maine and Massachusetts, the last two states with outright bans.
Maine’s highest court is considering a lawsuit questioning whether the state’s 19th-century law banning Sunday hunting of big game such as deer, elk and turkey is still necessary. In Massachusetts, where hunters are also lobbying for Sunday hunting rights, there is a renewed effort to change state laws banning the practice.
Forty states have no Sunday hunting bans.
The bans stem from so-called ‘blue laws’ that also regulate which businesses can remain open and where alcohol can be sold on Sundays.
Animal welfare groups, conservation organizations and others are rallying to defend the bans, but the end of the laws could be in sight. Other states, such as Virginia and South Carolina, have rolled back what remains of their own restrictions on Sunday hunting in recent years.
Residents of states where hunting is part of the culture are divided on this issue. Some hunters argue the laws protect the rights of private landowners, while others say the rules take away hunting opportunities — or are just plain stupid.
Athletes who oppose the laws see them as a remnant of the 17th century’s Blue Laws, which restrict the activities citizens can undertake on a day that governments once devoted to prayer.
Jared Bornstein, executive director of Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, said allowing hunting seven days a week would give people a chance to harvest their own food in a state with many poor, rural communities that can’t afford rising grocery costs .
“I’m not saying that Sunday hunting is going to save the world economically, but I am saying that there are more objective benefits to it for a group of people,” Bornstein said. “It is the last rudimentary attempt in a generation to control the working class.”
The states that still have full or partial bans on Sunday hunting are all on the East Coast, where sportsmen pursue wild turkey and white-tailed deer every fall with firearms and archery.
Last year, South Carolina opened limited hunting on public lands on Sundays, and the year before that, Virginia made a similar move.
According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, North Carolina began allowing Sunday hunting on about 75% of public hunting lands a few years earlier. Laws have also been relaxed in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware in the past five years.
The ongoing lawsuit in Maine, which could legalize Sunday hunting, involves a couple who filed a lawsuit alleging that the “right to food” amendment to the state Constitution is the first of its kind in the USA, should allow them to hunt any day of the day. week. The Maine Supreme Court has heard arguments in the case, but it is unclear when it will rule, said Andy Schmidt, an attorney for the couple. The state first banned Sunday hunting in 1883.
In Massachusetts, where some sources trace prohibition all the way back to the Puritan era, a campaign to repeal it made progress before stalling in the state legislature in 2014. Some continue to try to violate the law, which “discriminates against hunters.” ” said John Kellstrand, president of the Mass Sportsmen’s Council. Earlier this year, a new proposal was introduced to allow Sunday hunting with bow and arrow.
Efforts to reduce Sunday hunting along the East Coast are facing opposition from a wide range of advocacy groups, including animal rights advocates, state wildlife officials and private landowners.
Maine Woodland Owners, a group representing rural landowners in the nation’s most forested state, sees the Sunday hunting ban as crucial to keeping private lands open for hunting access on the other days of the week, said Executive Director Tom Doak.
“We don’t ask for money. We don’t say: pay us. We ask nothing more than to be left alone one day a week,” Doak said. ‘They will close their country. They absolutely will.”
Sportsmen’s groups, including the National Rifle Association and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, have long lobbied to overturn Sunday hunting restrictions, and have had much success over the past three decades. During that time, states like New York, Ohio and Connecticut have relaxed Sunday hunting laws.
Lifting the bans has created hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity, said Fred Bird, assistant manager for the northeastern states of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. Getting rid of what’s left of these laws would end “a regulation that has no basis in wildlife management,” Bird said.
“Simply put, if hunters do not have available days to go abroad, they must decide whether their time, energy and financial resources should be spent on a pursuit in which they cannot fully participate,” he said.
Wildlife managers in states where hunting takes place on Sundays have sometimes attempted to overturn the bans. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife testified earlier this year against a proposal that would have allowed Sunday hunting with a bow and arrow or a crossbow.
Agriculture, landowner and conservation groups also opposed the proposal, which had support from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and some hunters in the state. The Maine Farm Bureau Association testified that it is important for landowners to have “one day of peace and quiet without disruption.”
The proposal was ultimately voted down in committee. However, the chances of a similar proposal coming before the Maine Legislature again appear high, Wildlife Department Commissioner Judy Camuso testified.
“The topic of Sunday hunting has been a heated social debate for years,” she said.