November 15, 2008
Rules now allow younger hunters to shoot deer
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Justin Morgan, 14, is a young hunter from Blodgett Mills. New state rules now allow Morgan to fire a shotgun during hunting season.
CORTLAND — On the first day of deer hunting season, Justin Morgan, 14, McGraw, is hoping to shoot his first deer in the woods behind his house.
Last year, he was only allowed to follow his father, but this year, he can fire a shotgun because of a state hunting law that was passed in July.
Under the junior hunting mentoring program, 14- and 15-year-olds can hunt for deer and bear with a firearm this season.
Deer season began today, and bear season begins Nov. 22.
Gov. David Patterson announced July 24 that he had signed the junior hunting mentoring bill into law.
Before that, hunting laws allowed persons age 12 and older to hunt small game with a firearm or longbow, persons 14 or older to hunt large game with a longbow and persons 16 and older to hunt large game with a firearm.
New York was the only state where 14-year-olds could not hunt large game with a firearm, and more than 40 states allowed 12-year-olds to hunt large game with a firearm, at the time.
John Arnold, a certified hunter safety instructor and owner of the Twin Oaks Gun Shop in Truxton, said he thinks the children will be more responsible than many adult hunters, because they will have recently taken a hunting safety class, and, for the most part, they do not drink alcohol. Arnold said alcohol causes a large portion of hunting accidents.
“They’re basically going to be only as good and careful hunters as their mentors,” said Arnold. “If the mentor is just some kind of slug, that’s what he’s going to pass on.”
Arnold, however, said he opposes the new law.
“You’re putting a child with little experience into a kill zone, really. I can’t see putting the kids in jeopardy.” he said. “I personally think the only reason the state approved this is to generate more money from hunting licenses.”
Dave Metzger, owner of Dave’s Archery and Sports Center in Homer, said he thinks the law is “definitely a fantastic idea.”
“I don’t see any danger in that age group that you wouldn’t see in other age groups,” said Metzger. “As we get older sometimes we forget about the safety rules.”
“It seems that young people really pay attention in these classes, so I don’t anticipate any problems because of the lowering of the age,” Metzger said.
Nancy McMahon of Cortland said her family has been fighting for years to get this law passed. Her daughter, 20, spoke in front of a large crowd of DEC officials and state legislators about seven years ago when she was 13 and told them that she wanted to hunt with her mom.
“I think it’s been long overdue,” said McMahon. “After being in other states, these younger people are more safety conscious than us older people.”
“It’s a win-win for the state and the families,” she added.
Her son, Mason McMahon, 16, is ready to begin his third hunting season. This is the first year that he can hunt large game, since the junior hunting mentoring program had not been passed at when he was 14 or 15.
“It’s fun. Even if you don’t catch an animal it’s really nice just to watch them most of the time,” Mason McMahon said. “It’s mainly about going out and seeing them and being one with nature and having fun.”
To legally hunt for deer and bear this season, children must have a Junior Hunting license, and they must hunt with a “youth mentor.” The mentor can be a parent, guardian, or a person who is 21 years or older and is designated in writing on a mentored youth hunter and trapper permission form, which the mentor must carry while hunting with the youth, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Web site.
The mentor must be licensed to hunt big game and have three years of hunting experience. The law requires that the mentor and youth stay within sight of each other and be able to communicate without a radio, remain on ground level while hunting and wear hunter orange.
A junior hunting license allows 12- and 13 year-olds to hunt small game but not large game.
The bill also included a trapper mentoring program that allows children without trapping licenses to accompany a licensed trapper who is at least 18 years old and has three years of trapping experience.
Trapping involves setting traps to catch small game. Trapping season in Cortland County began Oct. 25 for small animals, including skunk, possum, red fox, gray fox, raccoon and coyote, said Billie Brush of Truxton, a trapper who is informally registered with the DEC to receive questions from other local trappers.
Prior to the bill being passed in July, children in the state had to take a trapper education class and get a trapper’s license to trap or accompany a licensed trapper, said Marie Kautz, a spokeswoman for the DEC regional office in Cortland. There was no age requirement, but children had to be old enough to read and understand a written examination required to earn a certificate, Kautz said.
Children who have a trapper’s license were, and still are, legally allowed to trap small game without supervision, Kautz said.
Brush said she is in favor of the new trapping law, which enables younger children to assist licensed trappers.
“That’s how they learn, and then if they want to get into it that’s how the parents know if they’re interested or not,” Brush said.
Brush said her three children passed the trapper education class and earned their trapping licenses when they were ages 6, 7 and 9, respectively. She said she was glad that her children were able to trap at such young ages.
“It puts meat on the table,” she said.
Brush said she catches beaver, possum, raccoon and muskrat.
“There’s no danger in trapping. Most young kids go with their parents anyway.
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