The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted 8-3 Monday in opposition to a bill that would open the door to Sunday hunting in Maine. Screenshot from video

A proposal to allow hunting on Sundays in Maine appears doomed.

After hearing from passionate supporters and detractors at a Monday public hearing, the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee voted 8-3 to oppose a proposal to lift the longtime ban.

“Landowners statewide are mostly against allowing the use of their land seven days a week, feeling that having us as their guests six days a week should be enough,” Don Kleiner, representing the Maine Professional Guides Association, told the panel.

Kleiner said there are complicated issues involved, including the prospect of shorter hunting seasons if Sundays are no longer barred to hunters, but the key issue is preserving open access to private land that might be put off-limits without the one day of weekly respite.

The proposed change to allow Sunday hunting “would create a complicated regulatory scheme,” said Kaitlyn Bernard, natural resources policy adviser for The Nature Conservancy in Maine.

“It would create a burden on landowners and upset the delicate balance of public access on private lands,” Bernard told legislators. “The current system is clear and easy to understand.”

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A small landowner in Norway, Richard McSherry, said he’s always kept his property available for hunters because he values the tradition.

But, he said, “I also value being able to walk the land in the fall at least one day per week without worrying about the possibility of a stray shot targeting our dogs as they get their exercise.”

If lawmakers drop the Sunday ban, he said, he would post his land to make it off-limits to hunters.

Not everyone agreed.

Quenten Clark of Farmington said the state should at least allow people to hunt on their land on Sundays.

He said that during his working years, he could only hunt on his property on Saturdays because of the restriction. Clark called it ridiculous to block him from hunting in his woods any day of the week.

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Andrea Gager of Lewiston urged lawmakers to kill the measure.

“Please do not further block the enjoyment of Maine’s great outdoors by allowing hunting on Sundays,” she said.

“Maine’s beauty and greatness is that it makes a place for all people who want to enjoy its beautiful landscape,” Gager said. “Hikers, birders, runners, backpackers cannot safely explore Maine’s woods if hunting is happening all weekend.”

Gager said the presence of hunters would limit everyone else’s activities.

A woodlot owner from Livermore Falls, Robert Jones, said he is “very much opposed” to Sunday hunting “as it is the only day I feel comfortable working in my woodlot during deer season.”

He said the proposal to allow hunting with permission is unworkable because law enforcement will always have more important issues to deal with than hunters who aren’t complying with the law.

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“This bill will only increase the divide between landowners and sportsmen and could lead to criminal or deadly consequences,” Jones said.

Jane Peterson, an 86-year-old Rumford resident, said she welcomes hunters on her land, but opposes adding Sunday hunting.

“That one day should be ours to enjoy without fear of being shot,” Peterson said.

Penelope Reed Gray, a registered master guide from Fort Kent, told the committee that “if Sunday hunting is allowed, hunters stand to lose access to potentially thousands of acres of privately owned lands.”

“All Maine landowners should be able to enjoy the land they own and pay yearly taxes on at least one day a week during hunting season,” she said, urging legislators to “respect the rights of Maine’s landowners. Without their generosity and support, our Maine hunting tradition would not exist.”

Opponents of the measure easily carried the day in committee, where the only legislators to favor the bill in committee were three Republicans: Sen. Russell Black of Wilton and Reps. Rick Mason of Lisbon and Lester Ordway of Standish.

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The bill stands almost no chance of winning legislative approval this session, but advocates said they will keep trying.

Jared Bornstein, executive director of Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, said the ban is an “injustice that was done to Maine people in the mid-1800” that advocates have fought to revise for more than 130 years.

Bornstein urged lawmakers to “do what you know in your heart is the right thing for working Mainers: Give them the same access to the woods that those who can afford days off have.”

Recognizing the long odds, he said Sunday hunting supporters “will never surrender this fight. We will fight in the committee, on the third floor, in the courts and in the public domain. We will never give up until this injustice is made just.”

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