In June, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a measure that will eliminate the minimum age limit — currently set at 10 years old — of Maine hunters.
What the practical age limit — 8? 6? 4? — will be remains to be seen. As of Jan. 1, it will be up to each child’s parents, not the state, to decide when a youngster is ready to hunt..
The rules for hunting with youths will remain largely intact though: Children who have not reached their 16th birthdays have to hunt with, and be under the direct control of, an adult. Those junior hunters will not be required to pass a hunter safety course until they turn 16, though many parents do require their own children to do so. One change: Those adult mentors will now be required to have passed a hunter safety class. In the past, that provision was not in the law.
Until Jan. 1, the current law remains in effect. The minimum age for hunters is 10.
In an earlier column, I asked Bangor Daily News readers what they thought of the new law, and understandably, readers jumped at the chance to share their opinions. Few thought the new law was a wonderful idea. Some were adamantly opposed to the change, while others expressed varying levels of concern.
Here, edited for space and clarity, are some of the responses that we received.
Brad Poll of Hampden: “Different kids become responsible at different ages, and I suspect much of that falls back on the parents. My added comment would be, perhaps we should add that all accompanying adults must have taken a hunter safety course and perhaps a current one that goes into more detail about their responsibilities.”
Jennifer Goldberg of Orono: “Two words [to describe the new law]: Terrifying and irresponsible.”
Rob Greenlaw of Greenbush: “I was ready to hunt well before I turned 10, but not everyone is. A responsible adult will be sure that their child is ready both physically and mentally before they allow them to tote a firearm in the woods. One mistake messes up too many lives, some will not recover from the mental scars of an accident, either to themselves or another. Hopefully, the adults will be reasonable and make sure they are certain that the child is ready. They wouldn’t put them behind the wheel of a car if they were too immature, would they?”
Dick Bedard of Columbia Falls: “One thing I can attest to is that young people of that age have poor judgment due to poor knowledge and experience that just cannot be packed into a youthful brain, no matter how hard you try, without the experience and guidance that only a responsible adult can provide. If the law as it was written was not broken and worked well, I am not sure why the change was necessary.”
Danielle Beale of Hampden: “My husband and I are thrilled, as is my father, who I couldn’t wait to start hunting with at age 10. My husband and I are both hunters, and our 4-year-old always gets upset when we have to drop him and his little brother off with Grandma.”
Ryan Michaud of Greene: “I understand that there may be some 7-year-olds who are responsible enough to hunt and to their parents/mentors: thank you, and I commend you. But I do not see the harm in keeping the minimum age at 10. With any restriction or law there will be exceptions to a seemingly arbitrary age requirement, but it provides a certain level of protection from those who are clearly not ready. [As the father of two boys younger than 10], under the current law they can enjoy the great outdoors and come hunting with their grandfathers and I before they are 10, but just not carry a firearm. What better time to teach safety lessons and prepare young hunters than bringing them along without any added danger?”
John Guay of Corinna: “My grandson turns 8 in October, and I have two seasons without a youth hunter accompanying me in the great outdoors come November. This new law makes me happy: I can enjoy starting a new person [as a hunter] one year earlier than I had anticipated. The safety and a fun experience will come first, then we will start the actual hunting experience.”
Larry Ferrell of Newport: “I would/will gladly take any kid hunting or sponsor them for hunting, but only after that kid has shown the responsibility to take the hunter safety course, either alone or with a parent or other adult. No kid should be allowed to carry a gun, even with a parent beside them, without taking this course. I think Maine has dropped the ball on this one. There is just too much covered in the hunter safety course. Even the most knowledgeable of parents can’t cover all the safety issues as the course does.”
Mike Dyer of Blue Hill: “This law change is just another example of lawmakers wasting their time on senseless legislation. Truly responsible parents will, no doubt, still wait until the youngster is at least 10 to introduce them to the joys of hunting. I can’t say as I’ve heard a huge public outcry on the need to allow 6-year-olds the right to hunt. … By the way, how does one arm a 55-pound 7-year-old for deer hunting? Surely most will have trouble handling most of today’s accepted deer rifles.”
Chuck Peters of New Gloucester: “My big concern has more to do with the effect on the deer population. I see this law as a good opportunity for many parent hunters to fill the tag of their child. I know many hunters who don’t think twice about tagging a deer with their spouse’s or hunting partner’s tag when given the opportunity. Doing this in the presence of a child hunter is not teaching good hunting ethics and the result is a greater number of deer taken. I realize that this is probably already taking place with some parent/child hunters. This law would increase the number of years that a parent has to fill their child’s tag.”
Diane Smith of Holden: “Insane.”
Beverly Roxby of Belfast: “I fear that as people continue to arm themselves to the hilt with weapons made for use in combat zones, that children will learn that there’s only one reason to go out into a natural area. Gun manufacturers have created “my first rifles,” guns [that are] pink for little girls. Killing is an activity not to be taken casually, especially by children who have recently learned the names of the animals they are killing. Taking 10-year-olds hunting — that saddens me. I’d like to think they need to hold onto that sense of wonder a little longer. But kids younger than 10? That scares and disturbs me.”
Harris Cohen of Lakeland, Florida, and Willimantic: “The key to success, no matter what sport or adventure, there has to be good parenting! Without that, there will be missteps. Age is not the issue.”
Nan Bradshaw of Dennysville: “I am not anti-hunting. However, putting a hunting rifle or shotgun in the hands of a child under any circumstances is dangerous. Is a child under the age of 10 capable of learning all of the lessons in a hunter safety course? I took the hunter safety course along with our young son so I could reinforce what he learned, but I do not hunt. I have not read the new law, but I think it should have a provision that a parent who violates the provisions of the law should have his or her hunting license taken away for life.”
Richard Laffey of Lincoln: “The 10-year-old minimum [age] has always been a reasonable and relatively safe place to start. The law should have been left alone. I am afraid of some tragic event to follow.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke.