How young is too young to hunt? State should reinstate a minimum age requirement

Guest Editorial
Michigan needs to rethink its hunting age.

In 2012, there will be no minimum age requirement in Michigan for a young hunter who is accompanied by an adult with a hunting license.

If that doesn’t give you reason to pause, imagine the 9-year-olds or 8-year-olds or 7-year-olds you know. Now imagine them in the woods with a loaded gun.

Most parents wouldn’t let their 9-year-old, 8-year-old or 7-year-old stay home alone — a responsibility at least equal to carrying a loaded gun. In fact, many child advocates don’t recommend letting children stay home alone until they’re 10, why would the state allow them to handle guns?

Heck, we don’t let kids drive until they’re 16.

The elimination of a minimum age requirement for hunters is part of a national trend to encourage more hunters. Supervision is the key to youth hunts, but it can’t totally eliminate a bad decision.

Hunting is important to Michigan. It’s big business, generating $1.3 billion in expenditures in the state each year and supporting approximately 19,500 jobs while creating $153 million in tax revenue.

It makes good use of the state’s natural resources and helps manage the whitetail herd and other species that inhabit vast forests across the state.

Hunting license fees help fund the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s wildlife management and habitat work as well as biologists’ salaries.

So, it’s important to keep hunters interested in the sport.

Michigan has done two things to address the decline in licenses from 1.1 million at its peak in 1992 to about 780,000 this year. Through education, it has improved the state’s hunting safety record to one of the best in the nation while at the same time changing licensing requirements to make it easier to introduce young people to the sport.

Since 1971, nearly 30,000 people annually have taken Michigan hunter education classes, learning safe handling of firearms and archery equipment, basics of wildlife management and hunter ethics during the two-day program.

The classes are taught by more than 3,000 volunteers across the state. Young hunters can learn what they need to know from their parents, but sometimes it takes an outsider to help the lessons sink in.

In 2010, 14 hunting accidents were recorded in Michigan, including three fatalities. It was a record low.

Michigan also has addressed the decline in hunting licenses by lowering the minimum age for bow hunting from 12 to 10 years, and for firearm hunting from 14 to 12 and now 10. It also has established an apprentice hunting license which allows those who haven’t taken hunter safety courses to hunt with a licensed hunter over 21.

These are effective laws. They keep hunting safe for the 700,000 people out in the woods, while allowing youths to join their parents and share their passion for the outdoors.

The laws also bring a little common sense to the table about what is age appropriate.

There’s no room for error during hunting season.