PORTLAND, Maine -- Some states are steadily chipping away at longstanding bans on Sunday hunting, and there is a push to overturn the laws in Maine and Massachusetts, the final two states with full bans.
Maine's highest court is considering a lawsuit asking whether the state's 19th-century law, which prevents hunting big game animals such as deer, moose and turkeys on Sundays, is still necessary. In Massachusetts, where hunters are also lobbying for Sunday hunting rights, there is a renewed effort to change state laws forbidding the practice.
Forty states have no prohibitions on hunting on Sundays.
The bans stem from so-called "blue laws" that also regulate which businesses can remain open and where alcohol can be sold on Sundays.
Animal welfare groups, conservation organizations and others are rallying to defend the prohibitions. Other states such as Virginia and South Carolina have in recent years rolled back what remains of their own limitations on Sunday hunting.
Residents of states where hunting is part of the culture are divided on the subject. Some hunters argue that the laws protect private landowner rights, while others say the rules take away hunting opportunities -- or are just plain silly.
Sportsmen who oppose the laws see them as a vestige of the blue laws dating to the 17th century and limiting what activities citizens can engage in on a day governments once dedicated to prayer.
Jared Bornstein, executive director of Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, said allowing seven-day-a-week hunting would allow people the opportunity to harvest their own food in a state with many poor, rural communities that cannot afford soaring grocery costs.
"I'm not saying that Sunday hunting is going to save the world economically, but I'm saying for a group of people there's more of an objective benefit to it," Bornstein said. "It's a generation's last vestigial attempt to control the working class."
The states that still have full or partial bans on Sunday hunting are all on the East Coast, where every fall sportsmen pursue wild turkeys and white-tailed deer with firearms and archery.
Last year, South Carolina opened limited hunting on public lands on Sundays, and the year before that, Virginia made a similar move.
A few years earlier, North Carolina began to allow Sunday hunting on about 75% of its public hunting land, according to the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. Laws were also loosened in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware in the past five years.
Maine's ongoing court case, which could legalize Sunday hunting, concerns a couple who filed a lawsuit stating that the "right to food" amendment in the state's Constitution, the first of its kind in the United States, should allow them to hunt on any day of the week. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has heard arguments in the case, but it is unclear when it will rule, said Andy Schmidt, an attorney for the couple. The state first banned Sunday hunting in 1883.
In Massachusetts, where some sources date the ban back to the Puritan era, a campaign to repeal it made progress before stalling in the state Legislature in 2014. Some are continuing to try to strike the law, which is "discriminating against hunters," said John Kellstrand, president of the Mass Sportsmen's Council. A new proposal to authorize Sunday hunting via bow and arrows was introduced earlier this year.
The efforts to roll back Sunday hunting up and down the East Coast face opposition from a broad range of interest groups, including animal protection advocates, state wildlife management authorities and private landowners.