Young hunters bill making its way through Montana Legislature

2013-03-23T11:03:00Z 2013-03-23T11:05:54Z Young hunters bill making its way through Montana LegislatureBy EVE BYRON Independent Record
March 23, 2013 11:03 am  • 

HELENA — Children as young as 9 could go big-game hunting with a “mentor” for three years before having to take a hunter safety course under a bill winding its way through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 197, sponsored by Scott Boulanger, R-Darby, would create a “hunter apprentice certificate” for children 9 and older that would allow them to hunt with someone older than 21, as long as that person stays in close range and has completed a hunter education class. Boulanger believes his bill creates an opportunity to get kids hunting at an earlier age and increase interest in the sport.

“Thirty-four other states have adopted the same or similar legislation,” Boulanger said. “Since 2005, over 780,000 apprentice licenses have been sold with a 50 percent hunter retention rate. Since 1990, there’s been a 31,000-person decrease in resident hunter in Montana and the average age is growing. SB197 is a feeder program for the hunter safety program.”

His bill already passed the Senate on a 35-15 vote, and narrowly was approved by the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee Thursday on an 11-10 vote. He expects it to come before the full House of Representatives next week.

“The bill has the support of all the major national hunting organizations — the Safari Club, Big Game Forever, Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, the National Turkey Federation — are all behind the bill,” Boulanger said. “They’re all blasting emails to their members to contact their representatives. So there’s ton of work going on behind the scenes to get the support of the House.”

Four attempts at similar legislation during previous sessions have all failed.

Some local sporting groups and hunter education instructors have voiced opposition to the measure. They said the current law, in which youths must be 12 years old and pass both a written and field test before being issued a hunting license, promotes safe use of firearms, hunting ethics and landowner relations.

“We don’t think 9-year-olds should be able to hunt without taking hunters ed,” said George Golie, representing the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Rep. Gordon Pierson, D-Deer Lodge, added that the thought of a 9-year-old holding a loaded high-powered rifle and experiencing “buck fever,” who hasn’t taken a hunter education class, is disconcerting.

“Hunter education is proven to teach safety,” Pierson said. “I’m not saying parents are not capable of doing that, but not all are.”

Bill opponents also said that most youth ages 9 to 11 aren’t mentally and emotionally mature enough to handle firearms, nor are they physically capable of handling firearms made primarily for adults. A recent survey showed 75 percent of hunter education instructors opposed the SB197.

“Under the bill, a third grader could hunt for three years before needing to take this class,” said Roger Lloyd, who’s been a hunter education instructor for 40 years. “You need to kill this bill before some third grader kills herself or some hunter.”

About 6,500 people take Montana’s hunter education classes every year. They typically involve eight hours of classroom training followed by an hour of hands-on shooting at a rifle range.

Proponents of the bill say that it promotes getting families together in the outdoors and helping them undertake traditional pastimes in an era when structured sports like soccer and baseball consume youths’ time, and electronic devices like video games keep them indoors. They added that it should be parents, not the state, that should decide whether a child is mature enough to hunt, and that smaller, lighter weapons designed specifically for smaller people are available.

“There are plenty of parents out there who are fully capable of making very important decisions for their children every day, and can make this one too,” said Mac Minard with the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.

Andrew McKean, editor of Outdoor Life magazine, added that hunter numbers throughout the nation have been declining for 20 years, but a 2011 Fish and Wildlife Service report showed an increase due in part to Family Afield programs that are similar to Boulanger’s bill.

Boulanger said the hunter apprentices would be better equipped when taking their hunter education classes because of their real-life experiences.

“I think when you start doing classes, people who have been mentored will have a leg up instead of having a lot of people who depend on sitting through an eight-hour class,” he said.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. RSW
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    RSW - March 24, 2013 12:01 pm
    By the response I got from elkguy, I'm assuming that he taught his kid how to poach seens how Montana doesn't alllow kids under 12 to take game aniamls.. That's the main reason they should have to take hunters safety first. They also teach ethics which apparently isn't important to some parents.
  2. The_Boneshackler
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    The_Boneshackler - March 24, 2013 9:53 am
    As an outfitter, Scott Boulanger is pushing this bill for his own self-interests. I suppose the next logical step is to allow twelve year olds to start operating motor vehicles three years before they complete a driver training course as long as they are with a 'mentor'.

    I shudder at the thought of having to hunt in the vicinity of an untrained 9 year old with a high-powered rifle being 'mentored' by some clueless yahoo. Deregulation of this nature needs to take into account the lowest common denominator (and we have PLENTY of that) .
  3. Simpleman
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    Simpleman - March 24, 2013 6:30 am
    I moved to Montana from a southeastern state several years ago and was really surprised to learn that my kids could not hunt there. Both of them had already legally killed deer, ducks, and turkeys while hunting with me. Then I got to MT and learned about this age limit. It is counter-productive and this law needs to change.

    Give the responsibility back to the parents.
  4. elkguy
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    elkguy - March 24, 2013 3:36 am
    Many states allow young kids to hunt big game and they do just fine. Maybe some of you don't believe your kids are smart enough to handle it until they're 12 but i'd say most can start much younger with the proper mentoring. If more youngsters spent more time in the hills with their parents and less time playing violent video games we'd see a lot less of the gun violence. But a lot of parents think they are too busy to be bothered actually teaching their children any thing useful. Like some of the commenters on here.
  5. Deadwolf
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    Deadwolf - March 24, 2013 2:35 am
    To you who are chastising "elkguy"....I killed ("harvested" for you liberals) a buck at 10. Every year since. For over 56 years. My son at age 9. Another state. This bill is a good idea. It encourages Dad's to get out there with his kids. FWP is run by anti-hunting liberals, they can go pound sand.
  6. RSW
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    RSW - March 23, 2013 10:50 pm
    Elkguy, where did your son kill his first deer?
  7. Pistol
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    Pistol - March 23, 2013 10:29 pm
    This admission of law breaking is unbelieveable. Your trying to prompt hunting and you don't obey the laws? My boys went with me too when they were young. After hunting I would allow them to target practice on targets, not animals, with first pellet gun then a twenty two. They became as hooked on hunting without killing anything. If the law is passed the nine year olds should have to take the same class as twelve year olds do now. Otherwise I'm against a nine year old without training carrying around a high power weapon.
  8. MTNimrod
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    MTNimrod - March 23, 2013 10:21 pm
    Where was it that your son shot his first deer when he was 7? Did he have to pass hunter safety first? Could he even hold up the rifle on his own?

    One such child should not be the basis for an all-encompassing law. What's next? Letting them start driving when they're 9?
  9. Bittersweet
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    Bittersweet - March 23, 2013 8:35 pm
    I guess I see where you are coming from to an extent but I guess if the Govt is going to step in and require ear protection for young hunters they should also do something about music headphones and concerts.
  10. elkguy
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    elkguy - March 23, 2013 8:01 pm
    My son has been hunting with me since he could walk. Shot his first deer when he was 7. Now at 18 he is so far beyond his peers when it comes to firearm safety, woodsmanship, and hunting it's unbelievable. The MWF can spout off about that being to young all they want, most of know that group is borderline anti-hunting anyway. This will be a good law for recruiting youngsters into hunting. It needs to be passed.
  11. Long Duck Dong
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    Long Duck Dong - March 23, 2013 4:23 pm
    Huh? 7mm, what the h#$% are you talking about?

    Mandates for hearing protection? Like we need another law to tell us what to do. I'd rather see mandates for chastity belts.
  12. snickers
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    snickers - March 23, 2013 4:14 pm
    Of course they're not old enough to handle a gun and apparently the parents aren't smart enough to realize this. What they're not taking into consideration is that most little children do not have the desire to slaughter an animal. This could cause serious mental issues later on. It's already widely understood that children who do harm to animals will most certainly eventually try their tactics on others. What is the matter with these parents?
  13. MTNimrod
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    MTNimrod - March 23, 2013 2:41 pm
    This is backwards. If we want younger hunters to get into the field, then we should lower the age at which a child may take hunter safety. Train them and then let them hunt. Saying that, "...when you start doing classes, people who have been mentored will have a leg up instead of having a lot of people who depend on sitting through an eight-hour class" would be like saying, "Let's let high-school kids gets some hands-on experience being doctors BEFORE they go to college so they'll be better prepared." Nice for the kids, not so much for the patients.

    Parents can take their kids hunting and mentor them in the process without putting a gun in the hands of people who haven't passed basic safety training.
  14. MiddleFinger
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    MiddleFinger - March 23, 2013 12:41 pm

    They need to mandate hearing protection for the kids as well otherwise we'll have a generation of deaf teenagers.

    Ya see, anyone dumb enough to give a 9year old a 7mm mag is dumb enough to think the gunshot won't hurt their ears.

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