Hunters, conservationists at odds on Sunday bow hunting
Baker seeks to do away with last vestige of blue laws
OVER THE YEARS, Massachusetts has gradually repealed its “blue laws” — historically religious laws aimed at preserving Sunday as a day of rest. In 1983, retail stores were allowed to open on Sundays for the first time. A ban on Sunday alcohol sales was repealed 20 years later. But one vestige of the blue laws still remains: a ban on hunting on Sunday.
What started as a religious prohibition has turned into a fight between hunters and conservationists.
In his fiscal 2023 budget proposal, Gov. Charlie Baker is now proposing to do away with the prohibition on deer hunting with a bow and arrow on Sundays.
Currently, the law states that a person on Sunday “shall not hunt any bird or mammal” or carry “a rifle, shotgun or bow and arrow” with the intention of using it to hunt.
Baker’s proposal would sidestep politically fraught gun control debates by maintaining the ban on hunting with firearms. It would allow only for deer hunting, not for the hunting of turkeys or bears, which are also sometimes targeted by bow hunters. Baker has filed similar proposals before, but they have not made it through the Legislature.
Deer hunting, in addition to being a form of recreation, is a method of controlling the deer population. According to the state agency MassWildlife, if there are too many deer in a habitat, that can negatively impact the health of the forest and other animals, and the deer can cause public safety issues and property damage to people. Hunting with a bow is generally allowed in Massachusetts, with a license, between October and December.
John Kellstrand, president of the Mass Sportsmen’s Council, which has been pushing for the change for years, said some towns have banned hunting with firearms, and the deer population has been increasing. “[Hunting] with a bow, which is very safe, quiet, and doesn’t disturb the neighborhoods, will help to control the deer population in these areas,” he said.
Ken Brown, president of the Massachusetts Bowhunters Association, said many hunters work during the week and some work on Saturdays, so the ban makes it hard to find time to hunt. Brown said hunting can also be family time – he personally hunts with his brothers and father. “We live in a new world where people are busy and often times people don’t have Saturdays to do all those things,” Brown said.
Both Kellstrand and Brown insist that bow hunting is safe. While hunting with a gun can be done from 100 or 150 yards, bow hunters tend to sit in tree stands and aim at animals that are less than 40 yards away. That makes it much less likely that a hunter would confuse a deer with a person. Brown added that hunters do not want to be near other people or their pets, since deer will run away. “There is literally no example in the history of the state of Massachusetts that I’m aware of that a non-hunter has been injured by a bow hunter ever,” Brown said.
Environmental groups, however, argue that naturalists deserve one day a week to walk in the woods without worrying about running into hunters. The Mass Audubon Society writes on its website that it supports the Sunday hunting ban “in keeping with our long-held belief that hikers, families, bird watchers, wildlife photographers, amateur naturalists, and others should have one day a week free of hunting to enjoy in safety the serenity of nature on public and private lands.”
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has opposed legislation that would eliminate the Sunday hunting ban, citing a history of accidents in which hunters accidentally shot people, dogs, or vehicles. “Sunday hunting bills prioritize a small minority over an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents who do not hunt, and who enjoy non-consumptive uses of nature and wildlife,” the MSPCA said in a position statement posted on its website, which points out that only 1 percent of state residents hunt. “The public highly values the one day of the week during hunting season when they can enjoy our natural resources without having to worry about conflicts with hunting activities.”
Currently, only two states – Maine and Massachusetts – ban Sunday hunting entirely. Eight other states have some restrictions on Sunday hunting, according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.