A hunter dressed in camouflage gear sets his sights on a turkey. In his lap are turkey calls. Portland Press Herald file photo

As they’ve sought unsuccessfully for half a century, hunters are pushing for Maine to revise or abolish its ban on Sunday hunting.

It’s a controversial issue.

For advocates such as state Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a Turner Republican who is sponsoring a measure to allow Sunday hunting on private land with its owner’s permission, lawmakers have a chance “to pass a meaningful piece of legislation that will touch the lives of countless Mainers and put our state in line with nearly every other one in the nation.”

But opponents, including the Maine Professional Guides Association, say it’s not that simple. They worry that if Sunday restrictions are lowered, property owners will be more likely to bar people from their land every day of the week.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake. R-Turner

Since 90% of Maine is privately held, including large tracts of forest, both sides agree that making sure property owners are content with any solution is crucial. Maine is the only state that entirely bars hunting on Sundays, though some states have tight restrictions in place.

Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, said, “The hunting community is pushing for greater control over the activities that will occur on someone else’s land.”


She warned that in the view of frustrated farmers who want a day to rest, those pushing for hunting on Sundays “are biting the hand that feeds their sporting industry.”

Jim Connolly, resource management director at the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, said the introduction of Timberlake’s bill — along with two similar ones under review — “is truly a social issue that strikes individuals personally with almost everyone having an opinion on this.”

Connolly noted that “the points of view are not necessarily predictable and vary within land ownership status, recreational interests and even among hunters. The discussion crosses lines of personal liberty and landowner rights.”

Don Kleiner, representing about 1,000 guides in the association, told the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee this week that Maine is uniquely fortunate to have so much access to open land.

“We are the envy of the country for that,” he said. “Why we want to be like other states on this is puzzling at best.”

The National Rifle Association has a different take.


“Restrictions on Sunday hunting effectively treat hunters as second-class citizens and tacitly endorse the view of animal extremists that something is wrong with hunting,” said its state director, Lauren LePage.

She called Timberlake’s bill “an important step in the effort to help increase hunter participation by expanding Sunday hunting opportunities. This legislation will undoubtedly invigorate hunter recruitment and retention efforts — key factors in preserving Maine’s hunting heritage for future generations to come.”

Connolly said his department understands “that Sunday hunting could provide potential economic growth and additional opportunity to hunters. “

But, he said, “At the same time, we recognize that many landowners prefer to have Sunday as a day that they can enjoy their land and allow other stewards opportunity to recreate,” a position the state understands well.

“Without the support and generosity of our private landowners, our outdoor recreational opportunities would be severely limited,” he said.

A hunter takes aim during a bird hunt. Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a Turner Republican, is introducing a bill to expand hunting to include Sundays, a proposal that is coming under fire from many groups. Portland Press Herald file photo

Connolly said regulators have been contacted by landowners who don’t want to be made out as “the bad guys” if they don’t want to allow Sunday hunting on their land.


“There is no single issue that would change the relationship more dramatically between Maine landowners and hunters, between hunters and the general public, and between hunters themselves, than Sunday hunting,” said Tom Doak, executive director of Maine Woodland Owners.

He said, too, “There is no single issue that would result in more loss of access to private land, for all purposes, than Sunday hunting.”

Bob Meyers of Bath, a longtime snowmobile fan, said he has “lost count of how many Sunday hunting bills” he’s testified against during the past 25 years.

“Not a single one of them has ever passed,” he said, and that’s what should happen again this session.

Meyers said he heard “loud and clear over the years” from many landowners who are willing to allow snowmobiles and hunters to use their property. All they’ve asked in return, he said, is to keep Sundays as “the one day that they want to have for their own.”

“Given the recreational opportunities they have made available on their property, it is a minor yet important request and should be respected,” Meyers said.


Doak said there isn’t another state with greater access to private land than Maine.

Unlike other states, he said, “Essentially here, unless told otherwise, it is assumed you can hunt on a person’s property, for free. That is an incredible benefit afforded a hunter in Maine, which is too often not fully appreciated and is commonly taken for granted.”

Doak said that once landowner permission is sought for Sunday hunting, there’s a good chance it will quickly transition into needing permission every day. A substantial loss of access will follow, he said.

He said landowners want Sundays “to fully enjoy their property” without concern about hunters. It’s also something that members of the public care about, too, he said, so they can also have a day to enjoy the outdoors without worry.

“Give nonhunters and wildlife a day of peace and safety,” Wayne Gray of Orrington told lawmakers.

Some advocates of expanding hunting into Sunday argue it’s a way to help hunters have more time in the woods since many can’t easily get away the rest of the week.


Jared Bornstein of Wayne, who called Timberlake’s bill a good compromise, said barring Sunday hunting isn’t fair to people who can’t take time off during the week.

He said he’s lucky to have the privilege of using days off and leaving work early often enough that he can take two or three deer each year – enough to give half the meat away – but he knows the time of many Mainers is more squeezed. Having Sundays would help them, Bornstein said.

Erik Gagnon of Brewer is one of those people.

“As someone that works full-time, I primarily only get to hunt a total of maybe 10 days the entire fall, between all seasons combined,” he said.

Because of limited time that “makes it extremely difficult,” Gagnon said he only buys hunting licenses because he loves hunting.

“It’s how I was raised,” he said. “It’s how I raised my children and it’s how I intend to pass it on to grandchildren when the time comes.”

A Mainer who doesn’t like the “nerve-racking” sound of gunshots, Susann Richer of Portland said she “cannot understand why we have to revisit Sunday hunting every legislative session.”

“Six days a week is more than enough opportunity for the 10% of Maine residents who hunt to participate in this ‘sport,’” she testified in writing. “The 90% of Maine taxpayers who do not hunt, need and deserve to keep their one weekend day of peace.”

Daniel Yarumian of Hollis, a hunter who wants to ensure the woods are safe in the fall for snowmobile trail maintenance, said “that Sunday should be a day off for everyone to be able to enjoy being out in the woods without having to worry about being an unintended target.”

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