LD 156 was sponsored by Representative Gary Hilliard of Belgrade and championed by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. USSA sent Rob Sexton to Maine to brief legislators and others on this issue over the past few months, and also wisely hired James Cote to lobby for the bill. Cote managed the sportsmen’s campaign on last year’s bear referendum and is highly respected at the State House.
Maine joins 39 other states that allow kids of any age to hunt with adult supervision. Hilliard’s bill won strong support from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and sailed through the House of Representatives without debate, but got hung up in the Senate where the some members had concerns about the bill.
To reassure Senators, Senator Paul Davis, the Senate chair of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, proposed 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.” With an extra push, and the adoption of that amendment, the bill won the support of Senators by a vote of 26 to 6. The House agreed to the amendment and sent the bill on to the Governor, who signed it yesterday.
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.
While the online arguments raged and were sometimes ugly, the obvious question was why Maine kids don’t have the same hunting opportunities as kids in these other 39 states? All of the opponents I talked with couldn’t really answer that question.
Representative Hilliard testified at the public hearing on the bill 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.
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.