December 23, 2012

AR-15 rifles rare in Maine, firearms enthusiasts report

While guns are part of the state's culture, few people own the semi-automatic assault-style rifles.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

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Fred Wiegleb, president of the 1,000-member Scarborough Fish and Game Association, carries his Beretta DT10 shotgun at the firing range Thursday. Wiegleb said he never sees semi-automatic assault-style firearms at the club.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Either rifle can be sold over-the-counter without a permit or license in Maine, but not all gun dealers in the state carry the assault-style semi-automatic rifle. L.L. Bean does not stock it, nor does Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville.

Indian Hill owner Craig Watt said he does order three to four a year for interested customers.

"The number one reason they want it is because they're a gun collector," Watt said. "Recently, and I mean in the last two years, I'd say people want it because they are afraid legislation will make them illegal."

Cabela's carries it, and the price ranges from $700 to $1,000.

However, in Maine's gun clubs, the assault-style firearm is hard to find, and Whitlock appears to be one of a small number of Mainers who own one.


A visit to any of the nearly 100 rod and gun clubs across Maine provides a view of the styles of shotguns, rifles and handguns used in the state.

Most firearms at these clubs, which attract hunters and competitive shooters, are not semi-automatic but single-action.

Moreover, club members say semi-automatic assault-style firearms are not easy to find in Maine, although you do hear about them.

At the Scarborough Fish and Game Association, which boasts 1,000 members, club president Fred Wiegleb said he never sees these firearms, and the Scarborough facility is one of the largest in the state, with several gun ranges of all types.

Wiegleb said it likely serves as a collector's item for civilians.

"I wouldn't venture a guess how many have a military-style semiautomatic rifle," said Wiegleb, 78, a competitive shooter for more than 50 years. "When you go back in time, the government used to promote marksmanship as a way to train military. And back at that time, in the competitions they used military service rifles, the World War I issued rifles."

At the York County Fish and Game Club in York, club officer Michael Doherty said the AR-15 is rare.

And at the Falmouth Rod and Gun Club, vice president David Ennis said he has heard about members who own an AR-15 but has not seen one.

"From my understanding, guys take it to their back-40 and shoot the heck out of something," Ennis said. "Our range is more purposeful for those sighting in their rifles for hunting season. You don't see those on the firing range."


Gunnar Gundersen, club president at the 400-member Lincoln County Rifle Association, said if AR-15s were widespread, sportsmen probably would see them more.

"There is a very big hunting culture in the state, and a lot of competitive shooting," he said. "It's hard to find a safe place to shoot today. It's harder and harder to find a gravel pit. People are looking for a safe place, and so they go to clubs,"

However, if the firearm remains accessible to the public, its popularity could grow.

Some sportsmen said it would be the perfect firearm for hunting coyotes at night, an increasingly popular activity in Maine, with a season running from December to August.

Since the Maine deer herd declined during the hard winters of 2008 and 2009, coyote hunting has increased statewide as a way to help the deer survive winter.

It is now promoted and, to some extent, financially supported by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Craig Gerry, president of the Durham Rod and Gun Club, said the semi-automatic assault-style rifle is perfect for coyote hunting.

"I don't know anyone who has them," Gerry said. "But they are light. And they are very accurate from 200 to 300 yards. They even have night scopes. People are finding they are a very efficient tool for coyote hunting."

Still, semi-automatic hunting rifles are usually used for this purpose, hunters say.

In Aroostook County, where the deer herd took the hardest hit during those tough winters, Registered Maine Guide Tenley Bennett said some coyote hunters use semi-automatic hunting rifles to help the whitetail recover -- but not assault-style firearms.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: Flemingpph


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