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Mentored Youth Hunting age questioned

Posted on February 4, 2013

Mark NaleTwo recent photos in one of the newspapers for which I write certainly grabbed my attention. The photos and their accompanying captions announced that brothers, age 5 and age 7, had shot their first deer – a doe and an 8-point buck. 

Since I have a grandson who is almost 4, I really questioned that a 5-year-old could actually kill a deer. I know that every child develops at a different rate, but my grandson has trouble even holding a fishing rod with a trout on, let alone a heavy rifle.

Could a 5-year-old safely absorb the recoil from a deer rifle? Then there is the very real question -– can a typical 5-year old stand or sit still long enough to watch a deer and prepare to shoot?  Even so, I gave the father the benefit of the doubt.

The next day, I received a phone call from a man who claimed to know the family involved. The caller insinuated that the father of those boys had actually shot the deer, and he asked why the Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations allow this. I had no good answer.       

A few days later, I met a former coworker as I was exiting a local fast food restaurant. He was just beaming because his son, age 13 and sitting in the pickup beside him, had recently harvested his fourth deer -– a nice buck. Counting backwards, his son had harvested his first deer at age 9.

These two cases represent both sides of the mentored-youth-hunting coin –- people who might be conning the system to shoot extra deer and people who are legitimately using it to introduce youngsters to the thrill of hunting.

Prior to 2006, the year that the Families Afield legislation was passed, the minimum age for hunting in Pennsylvania was 12. There is no minimum age attached to the new program. Should there be?

I’m not the only person having second thoughts about this situation. The debate reached the Game Commissioners during their late December work session. Commissioner Ronald Weaner brought the matter up for discussion and announced that he intended to propose a minimum mentored youth hunter age at the commission’s January meeting.

Weaner followed through and made a motion at the Jan. 29 commissioners’ meeting -- the vote ended with a 4-4 deadlock. His motion died, with no minimum age instituted.

I guess that some people will continue to abuse the system and others will use the program legitimately with positive results. That leaves me, along with Commissioner Weaner and many others, wondering if we should have a minimum age.