Hunting age bills resurface

Albany — Legislation that would lower New York’s minimum hunting age for big game from 14 to 12 has resurfaced in both the state Senate and Assembly.

Similar legislation died in the environmental conservation committees of both bodies last year, and it remains to be seen whether the bills will be released to the floor of the Senate and Assembly for a vote.

While sportsmen’s organizations are poised to push for passage of the bills, some additional optimism exists this year on the heels of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State message.

In that hefty document, Cuomo calls for a push to get more young people involved in the outdoors.

Supporters of the legislation say it would be an ideal means of doing just that.

“Many families have long traditions of hunting that define their way of life,” wrote Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther  (D-I-WF, Forestburgh, who again is the lead sponsor of the Assembly bill (A477). “People across New York are eager to pass the traditions and skills of hunting down to their children. Under current law, parents are unduly limited in the ways they can pass down the meaningful practice of hunting to their children. This bill seeks to remove unnecessary restrictions on the types of weapons that those over 12 years of age may use and the type of game they may pursue.”

State Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-C-IP, Rome) is the lead sponsor of the Senate companion bill, S3156.

The bills also include a provision that would lower the legal age limit for crossbow use from the current 14 to 12. Separate legislation has also been introduced in the Assembly and Senate to address the minimum age for crossbow use as well as to expand crossbow use through the entire archery season.

While the Empire State in 2008 lowered the minimum age for hunting deer and bear with a firearm from 16 to 14, that move didn’t alter the simple fact that New York still had the most restrictive youth hunting regulations in the nation.

It wasn’t until 1991 that New York lowered its minimum hunting age for small game from 14 to 12.

And today, New York is the lone state in the U.S. with a 14-year-old age minimum for hunting big game with a firearm. Twenty-nine states have no minimum age; 20 others have minimum ages ranging from 7 to 12 years of age (12 states at the 12-year-old barrier; one at 11; six at 10 and one at 7).

Too, some of those 20 states – such as Pennsylvania – offer special mentored youth hunting opportunities in which youths of any age can participate. Many New York youths, in fact, cross into neighboring Pennsylvania and Vermont to take part in those deer and turkey hunts.

Supporters of the 12-year-old age minimum point to the sterling safety record of young hunters in New York state, as well as the Empire State’s glaringly high 14-year-old minimum age.

Youth hunters in New York can pursue big game with a bow at the age of 12, but are prohibited from hunting deer and bear with a firearm – rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader –until age 14.

The state’s crossbow regulations also prohibit young hunters from using that implement for big game until age 14, since those laws parallel those for muzzleloaders.

Lowering the minimum hunting age to 12 has been supported by DEC fish and wildlife officials, the New York State Conservation Council, New York Sportsmen’s Advisory Council, the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board and many other organizations.

“We’re working with both the Assembly and Senate to get something in their budget proposals on this,” said CFAB Chairman Jason Kemper. “Whether or not that happens we’ll have to see. But it’s our number one priority; recruitment of hunters has been one of our chief concerns.”

Kemper last year said it’s even more critical to recruit new hunters as the average age of the New York state sportsman continues to climb.

“The earlier the kids can actively participate in hunting, the greater the likelihood they will stick with it and carry on the tradition. The participation rates in the youth hunts clearly indicate there are a lot of youths who would love to actively participate in big-game hunting at 12 years old,” he said.

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