Montana bill would allow 9-year-olds to go hunting

2013-02-17T00:10:00Z 2013-02-17T10:40:06Z Montana bill would allow 9-year-olds to go huntingBRETT FRENCH The Billings Gazette

Whether youths are more likely to continue hunting if they get into the field at a young age is being debated again this legislative session in Helena.

Senate Bill 197, sponsored by Sen. Scott Boulanger, R-Darby, would allow 9-year-olds to hunt with an adult mentor three times before being required to take hunter education.

“It’s a hunter recruitment bill,” Boulanger said. “It gives them a chance to try the sport.”

The apprentice hunters would not be allowed to apply for limited drawing permits like moose or bighorn sheep, and would have to be accompanied by a mentor at least 21 years old. In a fiscal note attached to the bill, it was estimated that 3,600 of the licenses could be sold.

The bill in its original form didn’t specify a minimum age but was amended in the Senate Fish and Game Committee, which passed the measure 9-1. The bill passed the full Senate on Thursday by a vote of 34-16 and now goes to the House.

“I think we’ve come a long way in putting sideboards on this bill,” said Sen. Kendall Van Dyk, D-Billings, who supported the measure.

The idea behind the bill is that the sooner youngsters are exposed to the sport of hunting, the more likely they are to stick with the activity as they grow up.

Current Montana law allows only those who are 12 and older to hunt, and those hunters born after Jan. 1, 1985, must have passed a hunter education course.

The bill is opposed by many hunter education instructors, said Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena.

“I think we should be very cautious about sending our kids out in the woods with a high-powered rifle,” she told the full Senate on Thursday.

Sen. Robin Driscoll, D-Billings, said similar bills came before her when she served in the House and were ultimately defeated.

“This circumvents the hunter safety program we have in place to protect our kids,” she said.

Driscoll added that youngsters can enjoy everything else about hunting except the shooting by tagging along with friends and family members on hunting trips.

Boulanger, who is a hunter and who has taken his children hunting, said fear of an increase in hunter-related shootings is unfounded. He compares a mentored hunter with a mentored driver, they are both much more safe with an adult present than they would be on their own.

“This is not a trial,” he added. “There are 34 other states that have this already.”

To encourage young hunters, Montana already provides incentives for a sport that many see as slowly dying. Young hunter-ed graduates receive a free sportsman license to hunt deer, elk and upland birds in their first year. The agency also allows youngsters the first shot at some species through youth hunts the weekend before the general season opens.

According to a study done by Southwick and Associates, which included Montana along with 11 other states, 82 percent of Montana hunter-ed graduates bought a hunting license within six years after completing the course between 2006-11. That was the best of the 12 states studied.

During the study period, if a youngster bought a license all six of the years after completing hunter education, that was recorded as 100 percent of sales potential. Montana’s sales potential was 55.8 percent, the highest of the 12 states. The average for the study group was 41.9 percent.

Families Afield, a group sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, has been a strong national advocate for lowering the age at which youngsters can participate in hunting. According to Families Afield’s data, states with no age restrictions on hunting are leading in hunter recruitment.

Hunter numbers continue to decline nationally. More older people hunt than younger ones. Not enough younger hunters are being recruited to replace the older hunters who drop out.

As a result, state wildlife agencies like Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks that rely on hunter license dollars to manage big game are under an increasing revenue crunch. Wildlife programs, restoration projects and land purchases could also suffer, since a percentage of the dollars that hunters spend on such items as guns and ammunition trickle down to states. FWP took no position on SB 197.

“We are losing our younger generation for the outdoors,” said Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, speaking in support of the measure. “To bring these numbers back up … this would be a good move.”

Boulanger compared hunting to fishing when he said, “Imagine going to your favorite fishing hole with your child and telling them you can watch but you can’t fish. How many times are they going to want to go fishing with you if they can’t catch fish?

“We have faith in the parents to make the decision,” he said.

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

(18) Comments

  1. lochleven
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    lochleven - February 18, 2013 1:53 pm
    All 3 of my kids hunt and fish and none of them shot any big game animals or upland birds before the age of 12 and I seriously doubt anybody has the passion or ethical devotion to the sport of hunting they do, so the argument kids need to shoot something by the age of 9 to stay interested in the sport is ridiculous. I believe the first time I took my son spring turkey hunting he was about 18 months old, tied him to my freighter pack and off we went. He obviously doesn't recall any of that and I was probably a little overzealous in my attempt to expose him to the sport so early, but the bottom line is, from the time my kids were really young I took them hunting with me more often than not and exposed them to every aspect of the sport with the exception of pulling the trigger. They didn't care, they were thrilled just to be there. If you really want your kids to take up hunting, then take them hunting, early and often, and if you're any kind of role model at all they'll be chomping at the bit in anticipation of their 12th birthday when they too can attempt to harvest their 1st deer or Spring Gobbler. Of all the hunting, camping and fishing trips I took with my kids when they were young, the one thing I never ever heard from any of them was whining about how bored they were because they couldn't shoot anything. When that day finally came it was, and still is gratifying to know they were old enough to actually comprehend and appreciate what it was they accomplished. If your 9 year old is complaining about being bored because they can't shoot anything maybe it's because you taught them than nothing else really matters other than pulling the trigger, in which case that's on you.
  2. photonut
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    photonut - February 18, 2013 11:34 am
    Sounds like a way to get more money to me. Up to 12 when they can take hunters safety is a great time for them to tag along and learn and enjoy the experience their is no reason to give a 9 year old a license except that FWP would profit that's not a good reason just my opinion
  3. nativehunter
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    nativehunter - February 18, 2013 10:48 am
    Shot my share of gophers with my .22 single shot, 47 yrs ago (10 yrs old). Graduated to a .22 mag. at 12 yrs old, then came the .243 at 15 yrs old. My first 4 years of hunting were all under the supervision of my Dad. I have no problem with that ! Get the kids in the outdoors and off the video games.
  4. ne-mt
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    ne-mt - February 18, 2013 6:32 am
    I think it has to be a center fire rifle to hunt big game.I have started a lot of kids out with my 222. It teaches them how to place a killing shot not shoot and hope you hit it.
  5. notfadeaway
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    notfadeaway - February 17, 2013 9:53 pm
    I started hunting at nine. Still have the scope kiss scar to show for it. Dad got in trouble and I waited a couple more years for big game. Whacked a lot of rabbits in the mean time. I have no strong feelings on this. It doesn't hurt for youngsters to learn the ways of the woods before pulling the trigger.
    Let's limit it to turkeys and rabbits.
  6. concernedMT
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    concernedMT - February 17, 2013 7:45 pm
    There is no caliber restriction in montana a .22 or. 17 is perfectly legal.
  7. alex
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    alex - February 17, 2013 6:13 pm
    A more important issue is making sure there are places to hunt when that 9 year old is an adult. With the Texas companies buying up ranches for private hunting and fishing, pretty soon there won't be any land to hunt on, except public land, and that will be overrun with hunters. We all know that means fewer animals because they leave those areas, so the opportunity to get a deer or elk (esp. when you are in competition with the outfitters and the wolves) will be a lot lower.
  8. backpedal
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    backpedal - February 17, 2013 4:12 pm
    let me guess,this clowns got a nine yr old son
  9. ne-mt
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    ne-mt - February 17, 2013 4:09 pm
    Other states have hunters younger then 12 years old so why can't Montana after all the FWS needs the revenue.
  10. Penelope
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    Penelope - February 17, 2013 2:41 pm
    There are reasons 9 year olds can't be liscensed to drive vehicles. First, they lack the judgement. Second, they are neither physically or mentally mature enough to understand the type of control needed to use them safely. Do we really want 9 year olds to be encouraged to use guns?
  11. Delytu
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    Delytu - February 17, 2013 2:30 pm
    There you go again Montana making a dumb law without really thinking it through. We have drivers that are young and inexperienced who have caused accidents due to a lack of experience behind the wheel. What do you think is going to happen with a 9 year old with a rifle and little experience? Way to go!!!
  12. waterboy
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    waterboy - February 17, 2013 2:23 pm
    By the way weaver a 22 long rifle is not a legal cal. to take big game, mt law requires a cal. large enough to take big game. a warden would fine you if caught using to small of cal.
  13. time2time
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    time2time - February 17, 2013 12:58 pm
    Growing up with a dad, mom, uncle & aunt or older sibling who are hunters, most kids already know how the weapon works even if their little hands can't quite pull the bolt back or work the lever action easily and smoothly. Monkey see. Monkey do.

    If they are from a rural area (most of Montana) they've been taken out to target practice and shoot at few tin cans by the time they are seven. So yes, they get hooked early as consumers of the products offered by the weapons industry. Well, that and booze. Gotta have that sixpack and bottle of Beam on these adventures. (still looking for the derision font)

    Gotta keep them in business so they can help pay the NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre and from time2time become fodder for the next war.
  14. TheOriginalOutlaw
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    TheOriginalOutlaw - February 17, 2013 11:18 am
    How about we stop calling it a sport when a 9 year old can physically do the same thing as a 90 year old. I grew up hunting in Montana as a necessity to provide food for the family. I never considered it a sport and I still do not. Much like golf, it's a game where you do not have an opponent that can fight back. That said, I would be happier if 9 year olds learned more about respecting their elders and doing better in school. We have prescious little of that going on.
  15. weaver
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    weaver - February 17, 2013 11:11 am
    Well, I shot my first deer when I was 10 years old and that was 45 years ago. I shot it with, believe it or not, a 22 rifle. So, I personally do not have a problem with that. furthermore, i am guessing, the people who oppose it, are not hunters. This law would only apply to hunters, who actually hunt - not couch potatoes who have noting better to do than lay and fart around and have nothing better to do than find fault with the world.
  16. billy banger
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    billy banger - February 17, 2013 10:47 am
    With the access issues this will not help add more hunters. put your efforts into the corner crossing bill. and stop the ones that think the fish and game should not buy more places to hunt.
  17. waterboy
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    waterboy - February 17, 2013 8:57 am
    You have got to be kidding me, first off I think we or they should be doing something of more importance with their time in Helena , second off 9 Is to young to take the recoil of the rifle that is if it's a big enough caliber to drop a big game animal and those that want this bill proably want to have an extra tag for them self's . If you want take them gopher hunting where a 22 is a good caliber.
  18. Regular Guy
    Report Abuse
    Regular Guy - February 17, 2013 5:19 am
    Safety first.

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