The Joint Legislative Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has heard L.D. 486 and urged its passage by the full legislative body.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Wes Richardson, is called An Act to Establish an Apprentice Hunter License Program. Enacted in a number of other states, the bill is intended to make it easier for non-hunters or inexperienced aspiring hunters to give hunting a try.

For example, an experienced deer hunter might invite a non-hunting friend to hunt under his mentorship and supervision. The “guest hunter” would, under the proposal, be required to purchase an apprentice license, but not be required to pass the hunter safety course.

According to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM), which strongly endorses the apprentice hunter concept, this is a national initiative designed to increase the declining ranks of licensed hunters. Eleven states now have such an apprentice program.

The objective is worthy. Our culture is changing, and with such changes as single-parent households and video games, fewer young people are being “brought along” by fathers and uncles who want to share the hunting heritage. Removing needless legal barriers for those who would like to try hunting for the first time seems sensible.

But the devil is in the details. Not everyone can agree on just what consitutes a “needless legal barrier.” The idea is that if it is safe for a junior (age 10-16) to hunt under the supervision of a more experienced hunter, then it is equally safe to allow a novice adult hunter to hunt under the supervision of a more experienced hunter.

After all, there is a safety issue here, wouldn’t you agree?

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which offered testimony to the legislative committee, took no position. It did, however, make a thoughtful observation that has definite safety implications: “Another potential pitfall is the different relationship that an adult novice hunter may have with another adult – as opposed to the subservient relationship that a younger, junior hunter probably has with a supervising adult.

It is hoped that the apprentice adult is responsible enough to follow advice and experience of the supervising adult hunter, but that would have to be clear in the relationship to avoid problems.”

In my view, this point cannot be overstated. It needs to be remembered, too, that Maine’s hunting safety record is better than it has ever been, thanks to an excellent hunter safety program administered by MDIF&W and a cadre of able and devoted volunteer safety instructors.

One question begets another question. Should we be allowing junior hunters, who have not had the required hunter safety course, to go afield with a deer rifle? I have long thought that this was a mistake, that all junior hunters should first be required to attend a hunter safety course, mentors or no mentors. In their heart of hearts, I suspect that most qualified safety instrctors among the MDIF&W staff would agree.

So the question becomes, do two wrongs make a right? Within this hunter apprentice proposal, there are significant competing interests: safety versus hunter recruitment.

Rep. Richardson’s proposal, we are told, is undergoing some revisions before it will go to the legislative body for a vote. However laudable the goal may be behind the creation of L.D. 486, there are reasons to amend it carefully and avoid a rush to judgement. Above all, a Maine hunter apprentice program must not become a loophole that allows any aspiring, non-experienced hunter to avoid the state-required hunter safety program.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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