Battle resumes on youth hunting age

By Don Lehman Contributing Writer

Albany, N.Y. – State Sen. Betty Little fondly recalls the days
with her young sons at hunter education courses, her boys learning
how to safely hunt in the Adirondack woods near their Warren County
home.

So having seen the benefits her sons enjoyed while being raised
as sportsmen, Little has long been a proponent of legislation that
would allow teens as young as 14 to hunt big game with adult
supervision.

Little, a member of the Senate’s Sportsmen Conference, and
others who have sponsored bills in the Senate and Assembly that
would create a junior big game license, are optimistic they can get
the proposal signed into law this year after having seen it buried
the last few years.

The proposal likely has enough support to make it through the
Senate, and also has the support of the state Department of
Conservation. It’s the state’s other legislative house, the
downstate-dominated Assembly, where it’s met its demise almost
annually since 2000.

DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan called the legislation “a huge
priority

“We’re the only state in the nation where 14-year-olds can’t
hunt big game,” she said. “It’s important to the future of our
support and it’s time to address that.”

Wally John, legislative vice president for the New York State
Conservation Council, said he was hopeful that lobbying efforts the
past few years would pay off this year.

“I think each year it gets a little better,” he said. “We’ve
collected a lot of petitions we’re going to present once the budget
is sorted out.”

John said the council has been concentrating its efforts on
downstate Assembly members, and trying to combat the opposition
anti-hunting groups have posed to the bill. He said anti-hunting
groups know that keeping teens from hunting will make for fewer
adult hunters down the road.

“That’s part of the reason there’s so much opposition,” John
said. “The antis feel if they can choke off the kids, they know the
rest of us are getting gray.”

Little said downstate legislators are out-of-touch with the
Upstate way of life when it pertains to hunting.

“They don’t understand hunting and that the sportsman experience
is a way of life in our area,” she said.

One of the bill’s Assembly supporters, Assemblywoman Teresa
Sayward, R-Willsboro, said she recently had success persuading a
New York City assemblyman to support the proposal by explaining
what hunting means to Upstate residents. “I had to explain to him
that young people in the North Country shoot animals, they don’t
shoot people,” she said.

Sales of more licenses would help the state Conservation Fund,
Little said.

In addition to Assembly opposition, John said a lack of strong
support by state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Troy, has
also hindered the bill.

“If he wanted it, it would be on the floor (for a vote)
tomorrow,” John said.

Little pointed out that 12-year-olds have safely hunted small
game for years, and said teens with proper training and supervision
can also hunt deer and bear safely.

She said hunting was an important part of her sons’
upbringing.

“They all went hunting with their father and it was an
experience they enjoyed,” she said. “It was a real family-building
and bonding experience. They went on to be good stewards.”

John said those interested in the issue should lobby their
legislators in support of the bills, which are numbered A1815 in
the Assembly and S1536 in the Senate.

DEC Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Gerald
Barnhart said sportsmen’s voices may ultimately dictate the fate of
the bill.

“The most effective voices are the people who hunt and want to
see the tradition passed on to young people. Our (DEC) voice tends
to be looked at as self-serving. People really need to get out and
work it. It’s not going to be enough if it’s just us,” Barnhart
said.

Editor Steve Piatt
contributed to this report.

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