Harrisburg — After considerable debate, Pennsylvania Game
commissioners decided to exclude deer hunting from its mentored
youth hunting program for one year until the agency can assess the
potential for additional deer harvest and figure out how to keep
track of mentors.
Despite being lobbied by leaders of a number of sportsmen’s
groups to immediately include deer as a species youth under the age
of 12 could shoot, in approving the program the board voted
unanimously to delay mentored youth deer hunting until 2007-08.
Commission staff had recommended that deer be excluded from the
program, but Commissioner Roxanne Palone, of Greene County,
proposed an amendment to omit deer for just one year. “We feel that
deer are important for youth hunting,” she said. “But we want to
put deer off until next year. Our point-of-sale license system will
go on line in July and we will be equipped to handle it then.”
Commissioner Dave Shreffler, of Somerset County, agreed. “This
makes sense that we don’t include deer this year,” he said. “This
will work out better if we just keep it simple this year.”
Commissioner Steve Mohr expressed disappointment in the delay on
deer, but he decided to support the measure anyway. “The more
restrictions we put on the program, the less participation we are
going to have,” he said.
“But there are a lot of things to consider,” said Commis-sioner
John Riley, of Monroe County. “We need to get this mentored youth
hunt going for deer as quickly as we can, but we have to do it
Before the vote, the commissioners heard from a number of
proponents for including deer in the youth program.
“With respect to the proposed regulations for the mentored youth
hunting program, our organization believes that deer should be
included,” said Melody Zullinger, executive director of the
Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. “We sold this program
to our members with the belief that deer would be included, and we
also lobbied very hard for this bill and believe that the
overwhelming legislative support was also due to the perception
that deer would be included.
“We have heard very few negative comments from anyone,
legislators or hunters, with regards to including deer,” she added.
“As a matter of fact, we are hearing more from legislators who are
upset because deer are excluded. Just as the deer-management issue
should not be the deciding factor for consideration of a license
increase, neither should that controversy be dictating your
decision on the proposed mentored youth hunting regulations.”
According to Zullinger, data from other states that allow a
mentored youth program show that there is no significant impact to
their deer resource.
“This program should be a stepping stone into the future of our
great tradition for today’s youth – please don’t make it a
stumbling block by excluding our most sought-after big game
animal,” she said. “We also ask that there be some type of
reporting requirement by the mentor. A permitting system would be
the best way, but if costs are the issue, then at the least, a form
available in the digest and online.”
Pat Domico, representing the Central Counties Concerned
Sportsmen, which includes the Mosquito Creek and Sinnemahoning
sportsmen’s clubs, two of the state’s largest, also urged the
commissioners to include deer in the mentored youth hunting
A member of the sportsmen’s committee that pushed the program
through the state Legislature, he urged the board to stick to the
framework the committee created. “We need to have the deer
included, people – we really do,” he said. “We guarantee success
with the program if deer are included.”
John Pries, a board member of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the
National Wild Turkey Federation and a member of Gov. Ed Rendell’s
Advisory Council on Hunting, Fishing and Conservation, pointed out
to the commissioners that the Legislature’s overwhelming support
for the mentored youth hunting program came largely from the
prospect of kids getting to hunt deer.
“They (legislators) are disappointed that deer are not
included,” he said. “The program was sold to so many people with
Ron Fretts, also a Pennsylvania NWTF board member, and chairman
of the Mentored Youth Hunting Program committee, expressed some
impatience with the Game Commission for not accepting the program
the way his committee had presented it.
Fretts noted that kids don’t care about the complicated history
of wildlife management in Pennsylvania or politics.
“I come as a friend of the Game Commission, not as an
antagonist,” he said. “I thought I had better tell you that now.
The legislators must have liked the program (with deer included)
the way we sold it to them.”
Fretts stressed the program should include deer and licensing
mentors. “Otherwise how will you know how many mentors you have?”
“The sleepless nights at deer camp before the opening of deer
season … I don’t need to say anymore,” he added. “You know deer
needs to be included in this program.”
In the end, practicality outweighed even Fretts’ eloquent pleas
for the 2006-07 deer hunting season.
“As this will be the first year of the mentored youth hunting
program, the agency decided it was prudent to start out slow and
then refine the program after we’ve had chance to evaluate response
to it,” explained Carl Roe, commission executive director. “This is
consistent with other agency actions. For example, youth seasons
were introduced one or two at a time; some youth seasons start with
only a day or two and are expanded later.
“Also, as there are many discussions about the direction of deer
management, we decided it was better to have at least one year
under our belt to determine if the level of participation may have
an impact to a particular area’s deer population,” Roe added.
The mission of the mentored youth hunting program is simple and
clear, according to Roe: create expanded youth hunting
opportunities while maintaining safety afield.
“This program provides youngsters a chance to develop the love
of hunting early and allows that passion to grow as they do. The
program promotes the development of the one-on-one training and the
hands-on experience that will help assure our hunting future, as
well as increase hunting safety through the counseling provided by
Under the program, a mentor would be defined as a properly
licensed individual at least 21 years of age, who will serve as a
trusted counselor to a mentored youth while engaged in hunting or
related activities, such as scouting, learning firearm or hunter
safety and wildlife identification.
A mentored youth would be defined as an unlicensed individual
less than 12 years of age who is accompanied by a mentor while
engaged in hunting or related activities.
The species identified as legal for the first year of the
mentored youth hunting program are squirrels, woodchucks
(groundhogs) and spring gobblers.