Nearly every session there is at least one piece of legislation introduced to somehow chip away at the antiquated Sunday hunting prohibition in Maine, and each time it dies a swift death before making it out of committee. While many hunters feel that Sunday hunting prohibitions are detrimental to the future of the sport and unfair, there is also a negative economic impact associated with being one of three states in the country with an outright prohibition still on the books. Eleven states remain with some form of Sunday hunting “blue law.”
In Maine, hunting is a major part of our economy, particularly in some of the more economically challenged areas of rural Maine. According to the latest National Survey of fishing, hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation report from 2011, hunting expenditures in 2011 in Maine totaled $203 million. Of that 50%, or $102 million were trip related expenses – food and lodging, transportation and other expenses. $47 million went to guns, ammunition etc., which is taxed at 11% by the Pittman-Robertson Act and goes directly back into the state for wildlife conservation purposes. The average trip-related expenditure per hunter was $565.
Over the last five years, as this report shows, the number of paid license holders in Maine has decreased by 32,128; 14,777 of which were non-resident licenses. In 2015 alone, we lost a total of 9,415 paid license holders. The reduction in revenue from license sales, the reduction in sales tax revenue and the loss of Pittman-Robertson funds has a major impact on our state budget, not to mention the impact a loss of this magnitude has on local businesses that depend on tourism from hunters to thrive.
A weekend hunting trip to Maine may not be worth the cost when non-residents can go to New Hampshire, Vermont, or New Brunswick (from October 28-November 17) and hunt every day of the trip. While the Sunday hunting “blue law” may not be the only factor behind the alarming decrease in non-resident license sales, it would be naïve to assume that it isn’t a major factor considering that during the same 5-year time period, neighboring NH only lost a total of 86 paid license holders (resident and non-resident licenses combined).
The Sunday hunting “blue law” also has a negative impact on residents who work 9-5 jobs as well as families. If your child goes to school and plays a school sport on Saturdays, there are zero days per week to engage the next generation of hunter in the sport. If you work Monday through Friday, it may not be worth it for you to invest in licenses and gear for one day to hunt each week.
There is a nationwide downward trend in the number of paid hunting license holders, however, the trend is amplified here in Maine. It is critical, both for our heritage and our economy to do everything that we can to make it easier for hunters, especially those who are new to hunting, to get out and engage in the sport.
My hope is that sometime in the future, we can take another objective look at repealing this antiquated law to give Maine hunters the same opportunities afforded to hunters in most other states around the country.