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Legislation would lower hunting age
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A good day at the Capitol for the outdoorsmen

Assembly Democrats voted on two budget proposals Tuesday night that demonstrate the power of committed outdoorsmen and women to keeping our hunting traditions alive.

The caucus deleted the Joint Finance Committee amendment to repeal the requirement that stewardship lands have to be open to outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing and trapping. "Outdoorsmen's concerns" were cited as the reason this provision was overturned.

In addition, the caucus voted to keep open all 24 Department of Natural Resources service centers that the governor proposed closing.

MADISON - Some thought it couldn't be done in Wisconsin - lowering the hunting age to allow 10 year olds to hunt small game, migratory waterfowl, and big game such as deer and bear. But sentiments have changed and the Hunter Mentor-ship Bill (SB 167) passed the Senate Tuesday on a bipartisan 27-6 vote.

Similar legislation (AB 222) has already worked its way through the Assembly Fish and Wildlife Committee. While SB 167 differs slightly from the Assembly bill, the legislation has a good chance of making it to the governor's desk during this legislative session.

Current law prohibits hunting and firearm possession by any person under the age of 12. A person who has attained the minimum hunting age but is under the age of 16 may hunt if accompanied by a parent or guardian and has successfully completed the DNR hunter education program.

The hunting mentor legislation would change all that. Both SB 167 and AB 222 would allow a person who is at least 10 years of age to hunt. However, the mentor would have to be at arms length and only one firearm or bow would be allowed between the two.

Completion of hunter education would not be required for the program. A hunter safety certificate would be required, however, in order to "graduate" from the mentorship program.

One important amendment that sporting groups have sought repeatedly regards permission to engage in target shooting. They argue that practice makes perfect and a hunter who is familiar with his or her firearm and has a good sense of locating the target will make for a safer hunt.

The bill abolishes that restriction as well. A young person would be able to use a firearm in target practice if accompanied by his or her guardian or by a person who is at least 18 years of age and designated by the parent or guardian to assist.

The Senate version of the bill would require a $7 license fee, not included in the Assembly version. That discrepancy should not be difficult to resolve and is not expected to hold up the legislation.

The attempt to lower the hunting age in Wisconsin has a long history. The last major push for such legislation occurred in 2006 when backing by lawmakers appeared strong. Unfortunately, proponents sought to lower the legal hunting age to eight, too drastic even for some of the most avid hunting enthusiasts.

To make matters worse, the legislature was also debating a proposal to keep eight-year-olds in booster seats as a safety measure (later disputed). The contrasting imagery was too much for most legislators who shot it down by a wide margin.

Ironically, some of the staunchest opponents of the 2006 proposal came not from the anti-hunting crowd, but from hunter safety instructors. While studies show no higher incidence of hunting accidents for this age group in other states, they maintained there are some at that age who are not ready for the responsibility that comes with handling a firearm in a hunting situation.

Most states allow youth under the age of 12 to hunt. Many do not even address the issue, leaving it up to parents to decide when their children are ready to pull the trigger. Twenty-eight states offer apprentice hunting licenses similar to the one under consideration in Wisconsin.

The push to lower the hunting age connects directly with the decline in the number of young people drawn to hunting and the belief that they are losing contact with the outdoors.

"The reality is that the number of those who participate in hunting is declining," said Edgar Harvey, Chair of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. "It all comes down to instilling a sense of appreciation for nature at a young age, and what better way to teach our children about sound conservation practices and nature that actively participating in outdoor pursuits like hunting?"

"Assembly Bill 222 and Senate Bill 167 allow for that early introduction to hunting in a safe and responsible manner," Harvey concluded.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation representing 168 hunting, fishing, trapping and forestry-related conservation groups in Wisconsin has also voiced strong support for the measure. "This bill provides anyone from the age of 10 through adulthood an easy method to become involve in hunting in Wisconsin," stated WWF President Jack Nissen of Dousman.

If signed into law by the Governor, the hunter mentoring program would take effect September 1, 2009.

-Lee Fahrney is

The Monroe Times

outdoors writer. He can be contacted at (608) 967-2208 or