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Hunting is not just for adults, but should 10-year-olds be going afield?

August 24, 2009 | 11:37 am

A hunter and his dog are poised for the first flight of doves in the Imperial Valley in this 2004 file photo.

News item: Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle signs Senate Bill 167 into law, creating a mentored hunting program that enables children as young as 10 to go hunting with an experienced mentor. Wisconsin becomes the sixth state to adopt what is called the Families Afield Program. The others are Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Reaction: This is great news for the founders of the program: the National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. The number of hunters has been dropping steadily in many parts of the country and it's hoped that this will get kids hooked at an early age.

All signs so far are positive; in five years the program reportedly has recruited more than 283,000 new hunters. Said Steve Sanetti, NSSF president: “Replacing our ranks as older sportsmen pass on and leave hunting is critical to conservation and hunting. This new law is a major tool for accomplishing that important task.”

But how young is too young?

Introducing children to the great outdoors is healthy. Too many of them spend too much time glued to  computer screens, growing obese and lazy, and do not appreciate nature and its importance in such a cluttered society. And serious hunters, despite how they're perceived by some, are for the most part dedicated conservationists who have done more to benefit wildlife than most of their critics.

But is placing a gun in the hands of a 10-year-old and teaching him or her about a pastime that involves killing animals a wise thing to do?

Proponents might argue that mentoring kids about hunting's role in wildlife management and teaching them how to handle weapons safely and with respect is beneficial to them, to wildlife and to society. Critics might argue that instructing kids to kill animals is irresponsible; that they're not yet old enough to think for themselves whether this is right or wrong. Critics might also contend that getting children interested in weapons at such a young age poses a danger to society.

Outposts is curious: Where do you stand?

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A hunter and his dog are poised for the first flight of doves in the Imperial Valley in this 2004 file photo. Credit: George Wilhelm / Los Angeles Times