The thought of having small children in the woods with weapons strikes fear into the hearts of some. For others, the ability to bring their younger children out in the woods for a chance to harvest an animal of their own is exciting. As a person who grew up with guns and who spent time in the woods with my dad from a young age, I would like to say I do not have a problem with not having a minimum hunting age. It is done in other states. Notice I said "I would like to say." Unfortunately, I do not feel there is the level of personal responsibility there once was. I am more confident in most outdoorsmen and women than I am in the general public, but I think there are still people who would rush to have their child harvest an animal without having the basics down and without having safety, well, beat into them, like it was to me and thousands of kids like me before we went out hunting or even shot a gun for the first time. I do not mean literally "beat into them," of course, but we definitely had the fear of God instilled into us and knew we would be "dead" if we mishandled a weapon, or even came close to it. I am not sure that type of control exists today.
I also came from the days when the first hunting experience was carrying a stick in the woods for the first year, rather than a gun. And if that stick were mishandled, it was a stick year again the next year, and so forth until one could prove they were ready to handle a gun.
In my time at The Times, I have had a chance to meet more and more parents of youth hunters. If every parent in the woods were like the ones I have met, I would feel comfortable without a minimum hunting age. Unfortunately, I do not think that is the case. Then again, there may be parents, even of children who have been through hunter's safety courses, who I would not feel comfortable hunting next to. Indeed, there are adults without children with whom I do not feel safe hunting. So, it is not age, then, but experience level and maturity (yes, even in adults) that makes all the difference.
Proponents of no minimum hunting age say only a parent is best equipped to know the maturity level of their child and when they are fully able to carry what weapon into the woods. Others do not believe that to be the case. Instead, they tout visions of five-year-olds with 30-06s in the woods alone, almost unable to wield the weapon with which they are hunting. I would tend to agree with the proponents, for the most part. A parent should know best when their child is ready to carry a gun in a mentored hunt. Even with the mentored hunt regulations relaxed, a parent should still know best, and be able to control that mentored hunt how he or she sees fit.
I would like to believe that sportsmen and women would be level-headed enough to know the limitations of their child and to provide them with age-appropriate weapons. And, for the most part, I believe that to be true. Even with that said, there could be problems, of course. Unfortunately, these problems could have lethal consequences.
In the end, I would love to see more kids hunting. I would love to see more youth cultivate a love of the outdoors and to learn their place in the world, and the responsibilities of being at the top of the food chain, through hunting. I agree that the idea of just hoping for the best is probably not appropriate in this case, though. Perhaps more education - both for parents and youth - would make it more palatable. There may be some well-meaning parents who make mistakes (we all do from time to time) with seemingly age-appropriate hunts, who might benefit from some professional advice. I have never been a proponent of more regulation or having more hoops to jump through, but at the same time, I feel this may warrant something along those lines.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.