Maine may soon join 39 other states to allow kids younger than 10 to hunt, with adult supervision. Legislation to eliminate the state’s hunting age limit sailed through the House of Representatives without debate, but got hung up in the Senate where the some members had concerns about the bill.
With an extra push, and an amendment that assured close supervision of the young hunter, the bill won the support of Senators by a vote of 26 to 6. This morning the bill was back in the House, where it once again won support without a recorded vote. Now, the bill goes to the governor. I have heard he is not supportive, but will let it become law without his signature.
Let’s start by giving lots of credit to the U.S. Sportsmen’s Association, who sent Rob Sexton to Maine to brief legislators and others on this issue over the past few months. At the hearing on the bill, Rob presented a comprehensive report titled, “Families Afield, Opening the Door to the Next Generation of American Hunters.” It was thorough and very helpful.
USSA also wisely retained James Cote, the manager of the sportsmen’s campaign on last year’s bear referendum, to lobby for the bill. James testified at the hearing on the bill that, “Thirty nine other states allow parents to decide at what age their child is ready to hunt – including our neighbors in New Hampshire and Vermont.”
The obvious question was why Maine kids don’t have the same hunting opportunities as kids in these 39 states? All of the opponents I talked with couldn’t really answer that question.
Representative Gary Hilliard of Belgrade sponsored the bill and worked hard on it. Hilliard noted that, “Junior hunters are the safest hunters in the woods, with an accident rate much lower than hunters overall. Junior hunting participation rates are not keeping pace and are the lowest in states with the most restrictions… Studies show that the younger we start youth hunting, chances are better they will stay for a lifetime. Parents care for and know their children far better than the government,” concluded Hilliard, “and are in a better position to decide when their children should hunt.”
Hilliard and Cote spoke to the Senate Republican caucus last week, and worked closely with Senator Paul Davis to win the support of that caucus.
To reassure Republican Senators, Senator Paul Davis, the Senate chair of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, created an amendment stating plainly that the junior hunter under the age 10 must be “under the effective control, within 20 feet, of an adult supervisor.”
The new law makes no changes for junior hunters ages 10 – 16, who are governed by similar “effective control of an adult supervisor” language. The new language for those hunters under 10 is the requirement that the adult supervisor be “within 20 feet” of the young hunter. In fact, adults will generally be right beside the youngster at all times.
Maine currently offers an apprentice hunting license that allows adults to try hunting, with close supervision by an experienced hunter, without taking the hunter safety course. Included in the hunting age bill is an extension of the apprentice license so that it can be purchased five times (instead of the current two times) before the person has to take the hunter safety course and purchase a regular hunting license.
My column on the public hearing on this bill featured testimony by a girl from Pittsfield. Her testimony was wonderful, so I end this column by offering it to you again.
Hi. My name is Danielle Armiger. I want the law to change so that little girls that are 8 years old can hunt. I am ready to hunt because I’ve been hunting with my Mom and Dad since I was four years old. Also, I got a .22 Cricket for Christmas and I’ve been doing a good job learning how to shoot it safely. I know how to use my .22 rifle safely. I know not to point it at anybody, to keep my finger off the trigger until I’m ready to shoot. I’m ready to hunt because I know a lot about animals. I’m a good aimer. And I’m a good shooter. I love the meat from the animal.
Danielle, a first grader from Pittsfield, stood on a chair to deliver her testimony. And boy, she was terrific! When she finished, Danielle got a big round of applause, something you don’t hear much at the legislature. I hope she is hearing that applause again today up there in Pittsfield.