January 30, 2023

Sunday Hunting in Maine

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With each passing season, I doubt there has been one that hasn’t included someone’s debate and reasoning as to why Maine should end the “blue law” that prohibits Sunday hunting. For sake of argument, I will focus my ideas on deer hunting as this entails the largest number of participants.

In an article published at Maine Wire, author James Cote, writes that it is time that Maine worked toward ending the ban on Sunday hunting and says that the only way this is going to happen is to convince the private landowners of the benefits for them and everyone.

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.

Certainly one cannot argue against this case. Whether or not Maine allows Sunday hunting, sportsmen should be doing all they can at “winning over the hearts and minds” of those landowners who generously provide open access to their lands for hunting, fishing, trapping and general recreation.

But the hunting issue goes beyond land access and winning over the landowners…at least in Maine anyway. Maine, unlike many other states, does not have any widespread issues with too many game animals. With the exception of a handful of sites, mostly where hunting is banned or restricted, most of Maine struggles to sustain a deer herd to levels where officials would be begging as many people, including non residents, to come and hunt.

Often the argument is used that Maine is losing revenue from out-of-state hunters because there is no Sunday hunting. That may contribute to the problem, if it really is a problem, but the fall-off of non resident hunters can more easily be attributed to a lousy deer herd – although, I guess it’s politically incorrect to mention that.

Before anyone is going to spend a lot of money to travel and hunt, they want some confidence that effort and money put into the adventure is not going to disappoint them because there is little game to hunt.

If officials and sportsmen are willing to admit that Maine’s deer herd is limited, then it should be just as easy to admit that with a limited deer herd, the state cannot provide unlimited deer hunting (or any other species).

At present Maine controls it’s deer population mostly by implementation of their “Any-Deer Permit” system. Officials issue these permits, often simply called “doe permits,” to lower, sustain or grow and deer herd within a Wildlife Management District (WMD). Most northern WMDs are not issued any permits and western and eastern WMDs have limited numbers. The short of this is that Maine has a limited number of deer that can be harvested while still accomplishing management goals.

The 2016 deer hunting firearms season has been set. Opening day, for residents only, begins on October 29th, a Saturday. The last day for firearms is November 29, also a Saturday. Counting Resident’s Only Day, that’s 25 days of deer hunting with 5 of those days being Saturdays – certainly the busiest hunting day of the week.

We should probably expect that Maine wildlife officials, in determining length of season, factor in hunter participation, which will be highest on Saturdays – more so when the weather is good.

I have no data to determine at what rate deer hunters take to the woods on a Saturday, vs. any other day of the week. Is it fair to say that Saturdays are twice as busy as mid-week days? I’ll let you decide.

Suppose that Maine did begin to allow Sunday hunting. Remember, I’m talking only of deer hunting, firearms season. With the same 2016 schedule, adding in the Sunday’s, 5 more weekend days would be added. What would that do to the participation rate for both Saturday and Sunday?

If we think of one Saturday participation equaling two mid-week days and apply a kind of weighted time element to the equation, the 2016 season, 5 Saturdays might be the equivalent of 10 mid-week hunting days. With Sunday hunting, the added 5 Sundays would be the same as adding 10 more hunting days – or worse, depending upon the participation rate.

If any of this is at all sensible, it sure seems to me that officials at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) would have to shorten the season in order to mitigate the over-harvesting of deer. This is the result of a limited deer population in many WMDs.

In nationwide surveys that I have examined before, one of the biggest reasons for hunter drop-off is having to work. The upside to Sunday hunting would be giving those who do have to work, often on Saturdays, a chance to get in some hunting. I’m sure they would like their freezers full as much as the next guy. None of this does anything to grow a struggling deer herd.

How does this apply to other hunting seasons, i.e. bear, grouse, turkey, moose? We still must factor in health of species, numbers and hunter participation.

There’s a movie where the line, “If you build it, they will come” is used. I think that’s the most important thing at the moment to focus on. Let’s build a healthy deer population that is sustainable to numbers that would support Sunday hunting. In the meantime, hunters need to understand that implementing Sunday hunting at this juncture would simply result in a shortening of the season.

It seems to make sense to me that a Maine deer hunter is going to be reluctant to give up some of his/her opportunities to bag a deer, just so a non-resident hunter can have his time.