Sunday hunting suit could be instructional

By V. Paul Reynolds

Yet again, a legislative attempt to allow Sunday hunting in Maine has gone down in flames. The bill, LD 2014, faced some formidable opposition, not the least of which was from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) and the Maine Professional Guides Association (MPGA).

Although SAM has long advocated for Sunday hunting, it opposed this attempt on two counts: 1) This proposal was tantamount to so called reverse posting (all land off limits to hunting unless posted otherwise), and 2)  It would have violated the Public Trust Doctrine inasmuch as landowners could hunt but non landowners could not. 

But, as the saying goes, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

A group calling itself  HUSH, led by Jared Bornstein, is bringing a lawsuit against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W). The plaintiffs in this case are asserting that their, and all Mainers, right to harvest the food of their choosing is diminished by not being able to hunt on Sundays. The legal linchpin being used by the plaintiffs is Maine’s new state constitutional amendment called “The Right to Food Amendment.”

This is explained in HUSH’s press release: “What this means in practice is that Mainer’s have a right to hunt and harvest the game of their choosing so long as that game provides food for themselves and their families; so long as they are not taking more than their share, hunting outside of established seasons or trespassing on posted land. This amendment means that IF&W is empowered to regulate Maine’s game species and Maine hunters on the basis of biology. What this amendment does not say is that Mainers cannot harvest game on arbitrarily established religious days.”

HUSH also asserts that Maine’s Sunday hunting ban, which is an archaic statute, is a social issue not a biological issue related to wildlife management.

Will this case get any traction in the courts? It is hard to say. The Right to Food Amendment, which SAM lauded as a big step in protecting our hunting rights in Maine, has never really been tested in the legal realm. So it will be interesting, perhaps even instructional, to see how it all plays out.

Maine citizens are clearly polarized on this question of  allowing Sunday hunting. Maine may be the last state to ban Sunday hunting, but perhaps the hunting community needs to be careful what it wishes for. At present, Maine hunters are blessed by having access to 10 million acres in the North Woods. Many of these large landowners are on record as opposing Sunday hunting.

Which is better? Access to expansive hunting areas six days a week, or access to significantly reduced acreage 7 days a week?

In southern and coastal Maine, where a majority oppose lifting the Sunday hunting ban, so much land is already posted that the declining access question should really loom larger as a recreational hunting  issue than the Sunday hunting option.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.

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