From the November 15, 2010 Lansing State Journal

As firearm season arrives, Senate bill aims to nix minimum hunting age in Michigan

Louise Knott Ahern • lkahern@lsj.com • November 15, 2010 

Hunting is more than a sport to Haslett resident Andy Kroeger. In his family, it’s a longstanding tradition that has helped him bond with his father and develop respect for conservation.

And though his two toddler daughters are far from being old enough to learn to shoot, his 3-year-old already has a set of camouflage clothes that match her dad’s.

“She’s already been after me to let her go sit in the deer blind with me,” said Kroeger, 36.

Kroeger might not have to wait as long to take her with him if a group of hunting advocates have their way.

Just in time for the start of firearm season today, a new bill before the state Senate would eliminate the minimum hunting age in Michigan.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville of Monroe introduced the bill Friday. If passed, it would allow a child of any age to actively hunt with a bow or gun alongside an experienced mentor – someone with at least one previous hunting season under his or her belt and at least 21 years old.

“Having a minimum age in the state is a barrier for parents who may think that their 9-year-old is mature enough to go out with them and hunt,” said Dave Nyberg of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which helped draft the legislation. “This bill is about allowing parents, not the government, to decide when their kids are ready to hunt.”

The bill comes just two years after Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a law that lowered the previous minimum age from 14 to 12 for firearm deer season.

Advocates of the new proposal use the same argument for this bill that they did back then. They say the state’s hunting traditions are in danger because fewer young people today choose to join the sport.

“For every 100 people who leave the sport for whatever reason, we’re only recruiting 26 more to replace them,” Nyberg said.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment hadn’t taken an official position on the bill as of Friday afternoon, but a spokeswoman said the agency supports any effort that encourages more kids to get outdoors.

“Our main competition are video games and computers,” said Mary Detloff, DNRE spokeswoman. “Getting kids outside is one of our top priorities if we’re going to continue to have a state with a long, proud outdoor recreational heritage.”

Detloff said the number of kids involved in hunting increased after the state lowered the age limit in 2008 but didn’t have exact numbers Friday.

The overall number of hunting licenses sold in Michigan have been declining over the past decade, Detloff said, but have at least flattened out in the past couple of years.

She said the state sold between 1.5 million and 1.6 million licenses last year.

Firearm season ends Nov. 30.

From Senator Richardville’s website:

“Michigan currently has some of the most stringent regulations on youth hunting in the nation causing fewer young people to enjoy the outdoor sport,” said Richardville, R-Monroe. “The hunter safety program created by this legislation will stress the importance of learning how to hunt from an experienced adult or mentor. It will be a great way to recruit young hunters by placing their safety and proper hunting techniques at the forefront.”
Senate Bill 1589 would require the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to create a “Mentored Youth Hunting Safety Program” that would give youth younger than 17 the opportunity to hunt with an adult hunting mentor.
Rather than focusing on a minimum hunting age, the NRC would establish specific guidelines for the program to allow young people to hunt with a licensed, experienced mentor at least 21 years old.
“The new hunting program will give parents the ability to decide when their children are mature enough to hunt,” Richardville said. “Some young people may be ready to hunt much sooner than others.”
From 1998-2008, the number of hunters in Michigan declined by 17 percent. For every 100 adult hunters in Michigan today, only 26 youth hunters take their place.

Paula Holmes-Greeley insists that these measures will lead to piles of dead children and injured adults in our woods.

Why are hunting advocates arguing with Michigan’s hunting safety success?

The state’s hunter safety programs — and age limits — are paying off. In 1970, the year before hunter safety education requirements were put into place, there were 18 fatalities and 212 accidents. The 2009 firearm deer season was one of the safest on record with one fatality during muzzleloader deer season and one during spring turkey season, and 17 accidents, according to DNRE records.

To be honest she has a point about outsiders training juveniles is often more effective than parents simply mentoring their own children, but I do not follow her logically that adjustments to the law such as Senator Richardville’s would automatically lead to calamity. The fact is that personal responsibility does play into it and statistics mislead wherever they gloss over the details of any individual incident.

While it should always be recommended to any learning would-be hunter that he or she receive the best and most stringent of safety training the first and last arbiter of whether a young one is mature enough to handle a weapon should be the parents, regardless of age.