Hunting age bill set to be introduced in 2016

Albany — It seems like yesterday, but it was actually seven years ago when New York state lowered its minimum hunting age for big game – deer and bear – from 16 to 14.

Hailed at the time as a major achievement for the Empire State when legislation was signed into law by then-Gov. David Paterson, the fact remains that the 14-year-old minimum age remains the most stringent in the U.S.

That could change under legislation that will be considered next year in Albany.

It could be a long-shot for passage; the 2008 legislative push that lowered the big game hunting age to 14 came only after years of effort. But sportsmen are already mobilizing ahead of the 2016 legislative session to push for approval of the bill.

“This bill seeks to remove unnecessary restrictions on the types of weapons that those over 12 years of age may use and the type of game they may pursue,” Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-I-WF, Forestburgh), the sponsor of the bill, wrote in a member attached to A8358.

“Removing these restrictions will allow parents to teach their children the valuable skills and values of hunting at an early age, and further solidify the tradition of hunting in this state for generations to come.”

Gunther’s sponsorship of the Assembly bill – state Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-C-IP, Rome) introduced the Senate version, S5434 – could be significant. She’s a Democrat in the heavily Democratic state Assembly, and her 100th District is located in Sullivan and Orange counties, not a long way outside the New York City metropolitan area where many Assembly and Senate colleagues live and serve their constituencies.

Gunther said her bill seeks to “remove unnecessary restrictions on the types of weapons that those over 12 years of age may use and the type of game they may pursue.

“Many families have long traditions of hunting that define their way of life,” she wrote in her memo. “People across New York are eager to pass the traditions and skills of hunting down to their children. Under current law, parents are unduly limited in the ways they can pass down the meaningful practice of hunting to their children.”

While some states in the U.S. have minimum hunting ages of 12 for all species, many states allow youths of any age to hunt under direct supervision, leaving the decision to their parents as to when they’re ready to head afield with a firearm.

New York state, however, has long had the toughest youth hunting regulations in the nation. It wasn’t until 1991 that the minimum hunting age for small game was reduced from 14 to 12.

Currently, youth hunters can pursue big game with a bow at the age of 12, but are prohibited from hunting deer and bear with a firearm – rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader –until age 14.

The state’s crossbow regulations also prohibit young hunters from using that implement for big game until age 14, since those laws parallel those for muzzleloaders.

The 2008 legislative push that led to the lowering of the minimum age for hunting big game with a firearm to 14 needed some additional help. It came from DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, a former member of the state Assembly who is generally credited with helping move the bill through the legislative process, using his political ties and knowledge of the system.

Whether that kind of assistance comes next year remains to be seen. DEC leadership is currently in a state of flux since the departure of Commissioner Joseph Martens. Marc Gerstman is currently serving as acting commissioner, and it’s unclear when a new commissioner may be appointed.

Regardless, it’s likely the bill – currently lodged in the environmental conservation committees of the Senate and Assembly – won’t advance without a concerted effort from the state’s sporting community and other organizations.

DEC’s fish and wildlife officials have long favored reducing the minimum age to 12, but at the same time recognizing the effort involved just to get it lowered to 14.

Now-retired DEC chief Gordon Batcheller told sportsman education instructors earlier this year there’s plenty of work to be done on the issue.

“As far as I’m concerned there should be no age restrictions,” he said. “But we’re in New York; let’s at least get a uniform hunting age of 12.”

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