MONCTON, New Brunswick (AP) – It’s a debate that has a familiar ring in neighboring Maine: Should New Brunswick’s ban on Sunday hunting be eased?

A Moncton lawyer says the province’s ban might not stand up to a court challenge. “I think it is certainly subject to challenge,” said Troy Sweet.

The provincial government is reviewing provisions of the Fish and Wildlife Act that ban hunting “on the day of rest,” which the law defines as Sunday.

Proposals to ease rather than undo Maine’s ban have come and gone in recent years.

A bill to allow for hunting on Sundays in the far northwestern corner of the state for small game gained some traction in 2004 before it was defeated, and a limited Sunday hunting proposal in the governor’s budget the following year was removed.

Next door, critics of New Brunswick’s ban say it discriminates against those who observe a different day of rest. Sweet says it leaves outfitters with one day a week that they can’t work, affecting their livelihoods in particular and tourism in general.

“Certainly a hunting lodge is taxed on Sunday,” Sweet said.

The province recently finished its public-consultation phase of the review, which was initiated after repeated requests by the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation, which represents fish and game clubs across the province. It received more than 10,000 submissions.

Brent Roy, spokesman for the Natural Resources Department, said the responses haven’t been analyzed yet to see if most are for or against the ban.

The responses came from a public phone survey, a survey of stakeholders such as hunters, woodlot owners, birdwatchers, hikers and similar groups, and from a department web site that solicited opinions.

Roy described the public response as unlike anything he’s ever seen, both in numbers and in vehemence.

“The opinions are extremely strong on each side of the issue,” he said.

Fred Swim, an occasional hunter from the Sussex area, said “it’s about time” the ban was lifted.

“I will still likely go to church on Sunday mornings like I always do and sit down to Sunday dinner with the family afterwards,” he said. “It’s about having the choice. And I can take my grandkids out in the afternoons and put a few birds in the pot.”

Swim said the notion that one day should be reserved for non-hunters to go into the woods without fear of gunshots is “ludicrous.”

“Show me where someone traipsing around the woods the other six days per week, when hunting is wide open, has ever been hurt,” he challenged.

Brian Dolan of the Miramichi area, however, would rather not disprove Swim’s challenge by being the first one shot.

“And there’s the noise factor, trespassing, that stuff. I’d just rather not have folks on my land or in the woods with guns for one day out of the seven.”

If only for conservation purposes, Dolan said the animals need a day of rest themselves.

The law makes no mention of why it bans Sunday hunting, only that you can’t legally do it, though there are exceptions. For example, many hunters find it curious that a private pheasant preserve is allowed to host hunts on Sundays, but a bear outfitter must order his clients to put their firearms away.

The province says it will decide this spring whether New Brunswick will join the majority of jurisdictions in Canada and North America and lift the ban.

AP-ES-01-17-08 2009EST

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