Should 8-year-olds be allowed to hunt in Maine?

Should 8-year-olds be allowed to hunt in Maine? Before you answer – and I will give you a chance to do that – consider this summary of research done by Representative Gary Hilliard (R-Belgrade) who has sponsored a bill to lower Maine’s legal hunting age from 10 to 8.

Gary is my State Representative and an impressive guy, with extensive experience in the business world and lots of enthusiasm for hunting and fishing. We had lunch recently at Mount Vernon’s awesome Olde Post Office Café, and spent a lot of the time swapping hunting tales. I especially enjoyed his stories of hunting with his older grandchildren.

I happen to have an 8-year-old grandson who is very anxious to hunt. I’m planning to take him turkey hunting this spring, even though he can’t shoot the turkey. He’s going to learn to do the calling, and I am certain he will love the hunt. I take a lot of new hunters turkey hunting because it is exciting and there is a lot of interaction with the turkeys.

I’ve been talking to a few of my hunting buddies and many are skeptical of lowering the hunting age. I have been skeptical myself, but have to admit that Gary’s research is compelling. It came from the National Council of State Legislatures and Families Afield, an organization comprised of the National Wild Turkey Federation, National Shooting Sports Foundation, and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. Here’s what he told me.

Thirty three states have no lower age limit for junior hunters. In those 33 states, youngsters can start hunting at any age with an adult. Four of these states have some other limits for the younger ages, like no big game.

Junior hunters are very safe and have an especially low accident rate – a much lower rate than hunters overall. The accident for all hunters is .000052. For junior hunters under age 15 the rate is .000005.

Gary told me that “today, most sportsmen are big game hunters. There is no safety reason to exclude young people from the popularity of big game hunting. In fact, research shows that the more we restrict youths from hunting big game, the more they don’t bother hunting at all.”

Clearly, he is focused on hooking youngsters on hunting as early as possible, before they get busy with organized sports and other activities.

Gary’s research shows that junior hunting participation rates are not keeping pace. Research shows that for every 100 hunters lost, only 69 take their place. Maine’s hunter replacement rate is even lower, at 58. He notes that if this trend continues, funding for hunting could drop by 25 percent by 2025. The lower the ratio, the more drastic the potential decline in hunting. “States with the least restrictive hunting age have higher replacement ratios,” said Gary, and “restrictions on youth hunting translates to less hunting by parents, also.”

He noted that lowering Maine’s hunting age “helps our economics. A higher replacement rate ensures hunters for years to come.” And he told me that Bill Swan, DIF&W’s very capable Licensing Division Director, reported that lowering the youth hunting age to 8 could result in 2900 additional youth hunters and an additional $40,000 in revenue for the agency, including federal matching funds.

But this is really not about the money. It’s about the future of hunting, and the appropriate age to get our kids started in our favorite outdoor adventures.

So, what’s your opinion? I’ve posted this question on my website in my Sportsmen’s Say Survey section, dedicated to Gene LeTourneau and sponsored by Moody’s Collision Center. You can access the survey here. Do it now!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.