Group: Scrap minimum hunting age to help recruit new hunters

By Bob Frye Capital Correspondent

Harrisburg — There’s no “C” in hunter, but perhaps there should
be, since that’s the grade sportsmen are earning when it comes to
recruiting youngsters.

A new, just-released report, titled “Families Afield,” examined
America’s hunting culture and its sustainability. The results were
not encouraging.

The study found that, on the whole, the nation is recruiting
just 69 new hunters for every 100 lost to age.

“With that 70 percent average, America gets a C grade in
sustaining hunting participation for the future,” said Doug
Painter, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation,
which commissioned the study along with the National Wild Turkey
Federation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“About half of the states are performing better and half are
performing worse.”

Count Pennsylvania as among the states doing worse. The Keystone
State is recruiting just 62 new hunters for every 100 lost.

“It’s not surprising,” said Ron Fretts, a Westmoreland County
resident and national NWTF board member. “There are a lot of
barriers to hunting, and of course age is one of the top ones here
in Pennsylvania.”

Fretts and others around the state and country are working to
change that.

According to the Families Afield report, statistics show that
the earlier in life a person begins hunting, the more likely he or
she is to remain active in the sport. Yet 34 states prohibit
children from hunting before they reach the age of 13 and have
competed a hunter safety course.

Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders, according to the
report, ranking among the 20 most restrictive states in the
nation.

“It’s obvious that by making the opportunity to hunt so
difficult, we are preventing potential hunters from trying the
sport,” said Bud Pidgeon, president of the Sportsmen’s Alliance.
“There are so many activities available to our youth today, by the
time they can legally hunt, they’re interested in other things and
we’ve lost them.”

To overcome that, a Families Afield campaign designed to lower
or eliminate minimum hunting age laws is being contemplated in a
number of states.

On June 15, for example, Ohio lawmaker Stephen Buehrer
introduced a bill that would create an apprentice hunting license.
It would allow a licensed hunter to to take a nonlicensed person,
regardless of age, hunting, provided the mentor and apprentice stay
close together. The apprentice would not have to complete a hunter
safety course immediately either.

Fretts is chairman of a group — the Youth Mentored Hunting
Committee — that’s been working to get similar legislation
introduced in Pennsylvania. The committee is proposing that a
mentor be allowed to take children younger than 12 hunting,
provided the adult and child stay in close contact at all times.
The child would not need a license or have had to pass a hunter
safety course right away.

Apprentice hunters would be allowed to hunt deer, turkeys,
groundhogs, squirrels, ducks and geese under the committee’s
recommendation.

The committee has been meeting all winter and spring, and is
close to rolling out its ideas for public viewing.

“I think it’s going along pretty good,” Fretts said. “I think by
fall all of our cards will be on the table.”

Indeed, by then, committee members hope to meet with
Pennsylvania game commissioners to discuss what it is they’re
proposing. The commission’s executive director, Vern Ross, has
proposed an October meeting.

Also in the fall, Fretts and/or other representatives of the
committee will be attending regional meetings of the Game
Commission’s wildlife conservation officers and volunteer hunter
education instructors to discuss the proposal.

At some point, Fretts hopes to bring a representative of the
Missouri Department of Conservation to Pennsylvania to talk about
that state’s youth hunting program. In place for four years, it has
introduced about 92,000 youngsters to hunting without a single
accident, Fretts said.

Finally, when the Legislature reconvenes in the fall, lobbyists
John and Monica Kline will be meeting with lawmakers to drum up
support for the committee’s recommendation.

Carrying the message about the need to get more kids involved in
hunting at a younger age will not come cheaply. Fretts estimated
the cost of the campaign at about $80,000.

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