Minnesota must intelligently expand youth deer hunting opportunities
The Minnesota DNR and Legislature should work together during the 2018 session to expand the state’s youth deer hunt. It seems to me that a responsible mentor could accompany an 8- or 9-year-old hunter in the woods following the same rules currently on the books for 10- and 11-year-olds.
Let’s not let the embarrassing expansion of youth deer hunting opportunities in Wisconsin, where 10 toddlers apparently obtained hunting tags, slow this process. More than half of the states in the country allow youth hunting opportunities greater than Minnesota.
My son is 9 years old and has accompanied me into the woods on a part-time basis for the past four years. This year he was with me the entire time for the Minnesota firearms season, and he did great. He was not deer hunting, but he’d matured to the point of being able to sit still (at least as well as I can). He even orchestrated a one-man deer drive and pushed a hefty doe to the crosshairs of my 75-year-old father.
Had he been able to hunt, we’d have given him the opportunity to do so by practicing with a high-powered rifle at the shooting range. To me, that’s one of the biggest obstacles to expanding youth hunting. Legal deer hunting firearms pack quite the punch, for obvious reasons, but pressure a young hunter to shoot too early and they can end up developing bad habits like flinching.
That was my biggest worry when we ventured to Wisconsin this year and my father-in-law purchased a youth deer hunting tag for my son. I’d brought a 12-gauge shotgun for him to hunt with, and the pair spent two quality days hunting from opening to closing without much luck. I wish he’d taken a deer, but I’m glad that his first time shooting a 12-gauge wasn’t at a living target. He’s extensively shot a .22 and is still a bit leery with the 20-gauge, but I was confident that he could handle it before letting him venture into the woods with his grandfather.
My 8-year-old daughter, who will be 9 next fall, says that she’d like to deer hunt but has some concerns about firing a high-powered rifle. She’s fired a .22 and 20-gauge several times, and is very confident in the woods. She wants to practice shooting this summer.
I’m guessing that I wasn’t the only parent with this concern in Wisconsin this past deer season. The state passed the expanded youth hunt regulations at the midnight hour before the deer season, leaving a lot of parents with that dilemma.
That is why Minnesota should tackle this during the spring legislative session. Let’s keep the youth hunt regulations as they are, but make it so that 8- and 9-year-olds can hunt, too. While it will not dramatically affect the statewide deer harvest, it will provide an expanded opportunity for youth who are crucial to the future of our hunting heritage.