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Posted Aug. 07, 2005

Jim Lee column: Lower hunting age may merit shot

Is your 10-year-old ready to handle a gun or bow?

Is he or she ready to pull the trigger on a whitetail buck or a spring gobbler?

Without attending a hunter safety course?

That question is being put to state legislators. It has the backing of some Department of Natural Resources officials and a number of hunting organizations, which means the legalization of 10-year-olds as hunters could become law in the near future.

Currently, Wisconsin requires a hunter to be at least 12 and to successfully complete a hunter safety course, a class that dwells on safety issues important to participants in any pursuit dealing with firearms.

Hunting organizations have promoted the change to 10 as an opportunity to involve more youngsters in hunting at an earlier age, and thus bring more young people into hunting as a lifetime activity.

On the decline

The number of people participating in hunting is declining as the number of those exiting the hunting arena exceeds newcomers. The most noticeable loss occurs in the recruitment of youths.

Proponents of lowering the hunting age to 10 contend that, in addition to soccer, hockey, basketball, football, baseball, golf and a host of other recreational pursuits, the sons and daughters of hunters should be able to partake in one of their parent’s favorite pastimes at an age when interest in hunting could be developed, instead of postponed two more years and perhaps lost to other activities.

They maintain that if youngsters aren’t introduced to hunting or any activity by 12 or 13, they are less likely to become participants in that activity at a later age.

Under the legislative proposal, hunters younger than 12 would be required to be within arms length of a parent or guardian who has passed a hunter safety course and that only one gun or bow can be shared between the youth and a guardian.

If a youngster continues to hunt at 12 and beyond, completion of a hunter safety course would be required

Statistics don’t lie

While I have nagging questions over the prospect of unschooled and physically tenuous 10-year-olds handling lethal firearms in deer woods and duck marshes, proponents of the measure — which include the executive committee of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association and Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association — provide a compelling argument for change.

They point out that 33 states have no minimum age for hunting or allow hunting at an age younger than 12 with no apparent increase in hunting accidents.

Voters at this spring’s statewide fish and game hearings voted 6,103-3,775 against lowering the minimum age to 10.

I suspect concerns over safety issues and possible abuses of the law formed the backbone of that opposition.

Safety is the No. 1 concern in all areas of hunting and firearm use. If hunter safety isn’t being compromised by lowering the hunting age to 10, then a prime objection becomes hard to justify.

I’m not convinced that lowering the hunting age will stem the downturn in youthful hunting participation. I believe broader sociological factors are responsible for those losses.

But if the safety issue is addressed adequately, there is no reason for Wisconsin not to pursue the legislation.

It deserves an opportunity to succeed.

Jim Lee is an outdoors writer for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers. E-mail him at [email protected]
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