OVER THE YEARS, Massachusetts has been gradually repealing 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 A ban on Sunday liquor sales was repealed 20 years later. But a vestige of the blue laws remains: a ban hunting on Sunday.
What started as a religious ban turned into a fight between hunters and conservationists.
In his fiscal year 2023 budget proposal, Governor Charlie Baker is now proposing to remove the ban on hunting deer 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.
The Massachusetts House passed a bill to lift the ban on Sunday hunting in 2014, but it stalled in the state Senate.
Baker’s proposal would avoid politically charged gun control debates by maintaining the ban on hunting with firearms. It would only allow deer hunting, not turkey or bear hunting, which are also sometimes targeted by bow hunters.
Deer hunting, in addition to being a form of recreation, is a method of controlling the deer population. According to state agency MassWildlife, if there are too many deer in a habitat, it can have a negative impact on the health of the forest and other animals, and the deer can cause public safety problems and property damage to people. Bowhunting is generally permitted in Massachusetts, with a permit, between October and December.
John Kellstrand, chairman of the Mass Sportsmen’s Council, which has been pushing for change for years, said some towns have banned hunting with guns and the deer population has increased. “[Hunting] with an arch, which is very safe, quiet and does not disturb neighborhoods, will help control the deer population in those areas,” he said.
Ken Brown, president of the Massachusetts Bowhunters Association, said many hunters work weekdays and some work Saturdays, so the ban makes it difficult 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 people don’t have Saturdays to do all these things,” Brown said.
Kellstrand and Brown insist that bowhunting is safe. Although rifle hunting can be done at 100 or 150 yards, bowhunters tend to sit in stands of trees and aim for animals within 40 yards. This makes it much less likely that a hunter will mistake a deer for a person. Brown added that hunters don’t want to be near other people or their pets because deer run away. “There is literally no instance in the history of the State of Massachusetts that I know of that a non-hunter has ever been injured by a bowhunter,” Brown said.
Environmental groups, however, argue that naturalists deserve one day a week to roam 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 longstanding belief that hikers, families, birders, wildlife photographers, amateur naturalists and others should have one day a week off hunting to safely enjoy the serenity of nature on public lands and private.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has opposed legislation that would remove the ban on Sunday hunting, citing a history of accidents in which hunters have accidentally shot people, dogs or vehicles. “The 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 declaration published on its website, which points out that only 1% of state residents hunt. “The public highly values the day of the week during the hunting season where they can enjoy our natural resources without having to worry about conflicts with hunting activities.”
Elizabeth Magner, deputy director of advocacy for the MSPCA, countered arguments that hunting is an effective way to control the deer population. She said deer are adaptable and their ability to reproduce is tied to the size of their food supply. So if some deer are killed, the remaining deer will have more fawns. If a habitat opens up because deer are being shot, other deer from more densely populated areas will move in. Magner said bowhunting is especially cruel because about half of deer shot with a bow will only escape and die after prolonged suffering.
“We encourage people to enjoy wildlife in a non-consumptive way, by watching birds or taking photos of wildlife, by being in nature,” Magner said. “It’s a much more human way of connecting with our outdoors and our natural resources.”