Each year — at our request, it’s important to note — proud parents send along photos of their young hunters after successful days afield.
The sight of those kids, some as young as 10 years old, have rankled some BDN readers who claim that allowing children to hunt teaches them the wrong lessons.
By contrast, those who grew up hunting and cherish memories of those early days tromping through the woods say that there are far worse things that children could be doing than hunting.
Come Jan. 1, that debate will likely intensify when a new law takes effect.
For those who thought allowing 10-year-olds to hunt was a bad thing, here’s a news bulletin you may have missed: In June, Gov. Paul LePage signed LD 156. What does that mean?
In a nutshell, it means there will no longer be a minimum hunting age in Maine.
Theoretically, that could mean we begin receiving photos of 3-year-olds showing off their first deer, bear or moose.
Practically, that probably won’t happen. Most hunters recognize their children ought to have learned dozens of valuable lessons before they’re allowed to tote a gun through the woods.
Unfortunately, I had to use the word “most” in the previous sentence. That leaves “some” out and may mean it won’t be long before one of the “some” decides Junior ought to be the first 3-year-old to successfully fill his or her deer tag. Or turkey tag. Or bear tag. Or moose tag. Or all four.
Before we go any further, I’ve got some questions for you. A warning: Your answers will likely appear in a future column. Please respond via email to the address at the bottom of this piece.
What do you think of the new law? Should Maine have eliminated the age requirement for hunters? Will this make our woods less safe?
While you’re pondering your answers, here a few thoughts.
Contrary to the opinion of some, this new law doesn’t make Maine a trailblazer. In fact, as BDN blogger George Smith pointed out back in June, the law simply puts the state in line with most of the rest of the country. Maine was the 40th state, according to Smith, to eliminate age restrictions for young hunters.
Here’s how the law is supposed to work: All young hunters (up to the age of 16) will be required to be in the presence of (and direct control of) their adult supervisor.
The young hunters will not be allowed to stray on their own. They can’t be stationed at a trail crossing within binocular range of their mentor. Neither can they simply check in via two-way radio with their adult supervisor who is some distance away.
The youth hunter and the adult supervisor are a team and will hunt together. As has been the case with hunters age 10 to 15 in the past, a junior hunting license is required. When a hunter reaches his or her 16th birthday and applies for an adult license, a hunter safety certification is mandatory.
That’s the plan, anyway. Of course, if every hunter obeyed every law to the letter, there’d be no reason to employ game wardens — and I can tell you our state’s wardens are extremely busy men and women.
During deer season a few years back, I met a group that included two junior hunters and their dad. The younger child had just turned 10. The older was a few years his senior. And because the dad couldn’t be bothered to tote both his children along with him — it might scare off a deer, he said — he positioned his elder son on a trailhead and left him there.
That was bad enough. But when I got to see the lessons that that older son theoretically “absorbed” during his hunting career, I was appalled. When a group of us met up on a road after our hunts, the boy’s loaded rifle was in constant motion, and another hunter ended up issuing a stern warning: “If you point that gun at me again, I’m going to take it away from you.”
Are all youth hunters like that? Of course not.
And really, the youngster’s actions weren’t his fault: His father, who seemed more eager to fill a tag than offer the guidance his sons needed, was to blame.
That’s the rub: The decision of when a young hunter is ready for the woods is up to adults — even those “grownups” who never really adopted the safety lessons we should have. All of us ought to recognize there can be a big difference between “ready” and “legally permissible.”
So how do I feel about the new law? I’m ambivalent.
I’ve met plenty of 7-year-olds who have spent countless hours in the woods with ultra-responsible moms and dads and who have eagerly awaited their 10th birthdays so they can officially take part in a hunt. And I’m sure those youths would have been ready to hunt at age 7, had the law allowed it.
And I’ve met 15-year-olds — or 25-year-olds, for that matter — who scare the living daylights out of me, even though some have passed their hunter safety course.
Which means, I suppose, the addition of younger hunters needn’t make the woods any less safe.
The key ingredient, however, remains the same: It’s up to the adults to make sure that’s the case.
So, what do you think about the new law? Good? Bad? Dangerous? About time? Let us know.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke