Lawmakers again push lower youth hunting age

By Steve
Piatt

Editor

Albany — A series of bills geared toward lowering New York’s
minimum big game hunting age of 16 has resurfaced in the state
Assembly and Senate this year.

Whether the proposals die a natural death in the legislative
process as they have in the past remains to be seen. But there’s at
least some optimism within the sporting community.

“It (the youth hunting bill) is on a radar screen,” said New
York State Conservation Council Legislative Liaison Wally John, who
is also a member of the Conservation Fund Advisory Board. “Perhaps,
with some luck, it could be part of the governor’s Upstate
Initiative.”

There are actually several bill proposals designed to reduce the
state’s minimum hunting age for deer and bear, which at 16 is the
most restrictive in the nation. Many New York youth travel to
neighboring states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Vermont to
experience their first deer hunt, and the 16-year-old minimum is
generally seen as the chief hurdle in introducing more youngsters
to the sport before they take up other pursuits.

Among the legislation proposed this year is:

  • S857, sponsored by state Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, which would
    create a “junior big-game hunting license” for youths ages 14-16 –
    essentially lowering the minimum age for deer and bear hunting to
    14.
  • S113, sponsored by Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, which would
    reduce the minimum age for obtaining a junior archery license from
    the current 14 years of age to 12.
  • S1284, another Volker-sponsored bill, which would enact a Youth
    Mentored Hunting Program that would allow youths ages 14-15 to hunt
    with a licensed mentor (age 21 and older). That proposal parallels
    a “Families Afield” initiative put forth by the National Shooting
    Sports Foundation, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and National Wild
    Turkey Federation that’s gained momentum in several states.
  • A01354, sponsored by Darrel Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, which
    would authorize the holder of a junior small-game license to hunt
    deer and bear with muzzleloaders during the muzzleloader
    season.

All of the bills have been referred to the respective Senate and
Assembly environmental conservation committees for review.

Volker, in his push for the junior big-game hunting license,
said the safety record of young hunters – allowed to hunt small
game at the age of 12 following completion of a mandatory hunter
education course – merits the move. “The (junior hunting) program
has been extremely successful and extraordinarily safe, according
to DEC, with junior numbers ( numbering about 20,000 each year)
accounting for only four accidents while under the supervision (of
an adult),” he said.

Legislation pushing for a junior big-game hunting license has
been introduced numerous times in both the Assembly and Senate
since 1998, but has never been approved by both bodies.

A Youth Mentored Hunting Program, he added, “would expand youth
hunting opportunities while placing a premium on safety afield.
Such a closely-supervised program would stimulate the learning
process of proper usage of sporting arms and a better understanding
of hunting, wildlife conservation and the principles of hunting
safety.”

Maziarz says his legislation calling for a junior archery
license at age 12 would simply “make consistent the age needed to
obtain a license for both junior hunting and for junior archery.”
That bill has passed the Senate on three occasions (2003, 2004 and
2005) before stalling in the Assembly.

Aubertine called his push for allowing youths 12-15 to hunt big
game with muzzleloaders during that special season is critical to
the future of the sport.

“The future of our hunting sports lies in the recruitment of new
and young people,” he said. “New York State is the only state which
does not allow youths under the age of 16 to hunt big game with a
firearm. These young hunters are able to go afield for small-game
hunting with a firearm at 12 years of age, and hunters at age 14
are allowed to hunt big game with archery equipment. With the
creation of a muzzleloader license, more youth can have the
opportunity to enjoy the sport.”

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