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

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

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Comments (16)

I am ten years and I agree that kids ten and up should have the opportunity and expierience to hunt. I live in an area in New Jeresy where many kids and adults hunt and if the goverment says that ten year old kids cannot hunt you will not just put me down you will put down America.

sincerely, Derek Sainz

I remember tagging along with my dad on hunts and checking trap lines as early as age7-going on rabbit hunts(without carrying a gun) between age 7-12 with uncles and cousins. My grandpa started chaperoning me at age 12 and letting me carry his over/under. My cousin and I were finally allowed to squirrel hunt on our own shortly thereafter.
Today I bowhunt whitetails every chance I get. Hunting has absolutely defined my life and and provided the means to know my family.

I don't think that children are ever too young to teach them right from wrong, no matter the subject. I believe that teaching them how to handle a firearm can serve as preventive medicine. Is it better not to expose them and then see what happens if they ever come across a loaded gun at a friend's house, then start playing with it out of curiosity? Better to teach them respect for danger rather than instill a fear of something so basic to our society.

As for the notion that killing animals is wrong, how does one justify going to the store to buy packaged meat? Afterall, somebody had to kill the animal before it reaches our plates. In essence, every time one of us pays for meat, we are really just paying someone else to kill the animal for us. I really don't see the moral quandary in this. Some people are more squeamish than others about death, and for them, I understand the desire to be several layers removed from it. However, the meat still needs to get to the table somehow.

Many people have an unhealthy fear of firearms for the sudden, violent death that can occur from them if abused. However, we have a greater chance of dying in a car accident than we do from the use of firearms. Does that mean we shouldn't drive, shouldn't teach our kids to drive, or that we should avoid handling vehicles? Seems to me that most people who are against guns really never learned how to shoot or handle them. There's also the argument that a well-armed nation won't be intimidated very easily. Our country never would have developed into the society it is without firearms.

As for a child's emotional and mental maturity -- that varies with the child, and it should be each parent's decision about when a child is ready to participate in shooting sports (of which target shooting is one). My son, who is nine years old, has been complimented by several adults about how responsible he is at the range. In truth, he is more responsible than most of the adults I see there because he has received training, and many of the adults haven't. I repeatedly ask adults to point their firearms down range and keep their fingers off of the trigger until ready to shoot. With a bit of education, firearms can be handled safely. Will we ever prevent all accidents or crime with firearms? No. But if you eliminate firearms, human nature suggests that people will kill each other with other items -- rocks, pipes, bats, knives, etc.

The article above also does not mention that a child hunting in Wisconsin must be within arm's reach of the adult, and the two hunters can share only one gun between them. This is to prevent the child from handling the firearm without supervision. As I read all the details of the new law, I couldn't help but think how intelligently written it was, and that I wish more laws were given the same kind of thought this one was given.

The person in the best position to judge whether a minor is mature enough to handle a weapon or hunting is their parent. In many states, families hunting together is the norm, and an irrational fear of firearms is rather unique to California.

I hope California enacts something like this for our children. It is always a positive when children can learn what the real use of a gun is. Education and guidance will take our kids a long way.

This is a very postive move in the right direction.

I live in New Zealand where there are no laws restricting the age at which children, supervised by a licensed adult can handle firearms and hunt game.

Learning to hunt is an important life skill, it teaches respect for both firearms and the environment and the wildlife in it.

This is disgusting. It's bad enough that adults participate in the NON-sport of hunting, but to encourage CHILDREN to kill defenseless animals--and ENJOY it? Sick. Just sick.

Hunting will be a SPORT when the animal can shoot back. http://www.cafepress.com/saproducts/787540

At age 11 the Boy Scouts introduced me to both the outdoors and firearms safety. At 41 years old today I have safely enjoyed the outdoors and hunting for 30 years now. Safety was always the number one thing stressed in the handling of firearms and at an early age, one never forgets these lessons. It is much better to have formal firearms training by an organization than individually by some drunk hillbilly relative.

In answer to the comment from HMM, unlike an Xbox/Playstation video games where you shoot and kill every thing in sight, hunters safety tells you to only point your firearm in a safe direction and at the target that you intend to shoot.

Hunters, back packers, and fisherman are more aware of protecting the environment and wildlife sustainability than your average armchair environmentalists simply because they are the people who are out in the field seeing the changes to our environment year after year.

I have taken both my daughters to the shooting range. One was 8 and one was 6 when they started. With proper training, guidence and respect for the fire arm, they both now know that fire arms are not toys. They respect what a fire arm can do and know that they must think safety first at all times. They both enjoy shooting and it is a great experience. However, at the age of 12 and younger, the "mentor" must be vigil at all times. They are still kids and the mentor must give full attention on them. If I am shooting with my children, they are the ones shooting, I am there for them and only them. Both really enjoy shooting, but have no interest in hunting. We have discussed hunting and both of them made the choice not to be hunters (they are older now). Even so, it is a great experience and for them and I get enjoyment sharing one of my interests. The key is the mentor must take the reaponsibility of a mentor.

Sending young children into the woods with a loaded weapon is inviting danger, just as we recently saw in Washington State when a 14-year-old hunter shot and killed a hiker when he mistook her for a bear.

While some parents make good decisions regarding the safety of their children, other, unfortunately, do not. And young children simply lack the mental and emotional maturity to take part in a practice that requires split second life and death decions. For this reason, we require individuals to be 16 years of age to drive and 18 years of age to drink alcohol, for both the safety of the children and the safety of those around them.

At ten years of age many children still believe in santa claus and the tooth fairy, and each year children are injured or killed while hunting, and others are injured or killed by child hunters.

I plan on taking my daughters to the range when they are 12 or 13 years old and teaching them how to safely handle a gun. I don't necessarily care about taking them hunting, but at a minimum I want to instill in them the two primary rules about gun safety: never point a gun at anyone, and treat all guns as if they're loaded.

Even if they are completely uninterested in guns, I don't want them to be scared of guns, or unsure how to handle one.

People that are not into this kind of thing would find it an impossible thought. Although like anything the more educated you are in something the less dangerous you are. This is no different when dealing with firearms, the more trained and understanding of how a rifle or firearm operates the less you are a threat with or around one.

Hunting is essentially the same as fishing and should be treated as such by the law. One harvests animal life on land, the other from water.

One catch is that the animals people sympathize with are mostly mammals, not fish. Some may cry for dolphins trapped in tuna nets but no tears are shed for the tuna. Fish get no respect.

The other catch is that guns frighten people, mostly non-gun owners, who seem deaf to reasoning showing more risk from kitchen knives, chainsaws, slipping in bathtubs, traffic collisions & other common accidents.

By introducing kids to gun safety at the earliest age possible, the chance that they may unknowingly point a loaded gun at another child. adult or themselves becomes much less likely than if a gun is hidden in the hope that children won't find it. In teaching hunting to children, they learn where their meat comes from, how hunting thins the herd so other individuals of that species can survive and that hunting is needed to prevent famine due to the stripping of vegetation that all members of that species need to survive.

I say keep the guns off the kids, let them be glued to the computers, XBox, or better yet, just give them a can of spray paint. That's a form of excercise right?

I went through a hunter's safety education course when I was about twelve years old. I believe that being taught to appreciate nature through hunting was one of the best things I could have experienced growing up. Hunting can help one become closer with a mentor, which in my case was my dad. I do not think that a ten year old is too young to start hunting as long as they are required to go through a safety course and are supervised very closely as they go through the process.


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