When it comes to junior hunters and hunting safety, I am old school. A former certified hunting safety instructor and father of two sons who were brought up with guns, my boys were indoctrinated early and often in all of the protocols of safe gun handling and safe hunting practices. (Each of them, at my insistence, took the state-certified hunting safety courses, not once, but twice).

Here is the way I see it: Because we are all prone to mental lapses and stupid mistakes, whether young or old, you really can’t overdo it when it comes to firearms safety: bullets are final and they can’t be called back.

Perhaps this is why the sweeping change this year in Maine’s junior hunting law caught me unawares, and pushed my eyebrows up a notch. The new law, which went in effect in January, eliminates the minimum age requirement for junior hunting license holders and allows any hunter under the age of 16 to purchase a junior hunting license. The law, before this change, stated that no person under the age of 10 could hunt.

The argument for making this legal leap has a popular appeal. It is that all youngsters are different, one 8-year old can be more mature than another 12-year old. “Leave the decision to the parents, not the government,” goes the refrain. More and more states are taking this route.

The new Maine law draws a distinction between hunters between 10 and 15 and hunters under the age of 10. In each case, the junior hunter must be “in the presence of, and under the effective control of an adult supervisor.” However, in the case of the junior hunter under 10 years of age, the adult supervisor must at all times be within 20 feet of the young hunter.

It can be argued that the 20-foot qualifier for the under-10 junior hunter underscores both the potential riskiness of this new approach with junior hunters, as well as the potential enforcement dilemma for game wardens.


Advocates of this new approach like the idea that it gives traction to the laudable goal of “bringing new hunters along.” As a parent who started his sons young with gun handling and hunting, I was always careful to “manage” my parental enthusiasm and not go too fast, to make sure that my sons were emotionally ready and schooled in the serious side of the blood sports. (This can be every bit as important as the rudiments of safe gun handling.)

Even before this liberalization of the junior hunting license requirements, it has bothered me that in Maine no junior hunter has been required to take a hunter safety course until he or she is ready to go it alone in the deer woods at age 16. Unfortunately, none of this has changed.

Parents of junior hunters, 10 years of age or older, can voluntarily enroll their youngsters in a state-certified hunter safety course. Wise mentors will do so, and, later, when their youngster turns 16, have them take the course again as a refresher.

As for the 20-foot rule mentioned above, this is a bad call that needs to be revisited by the IF&W safety office, if not the state legislature. As a father and former safety instructor, I would make sure that my nine-year old junior hunter with his .243 would never be beyond arm’s length. Surely, experienced state hunting safety instructors will be making my case soon and often to the Head Shed, if they haven’t done so already!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors.” His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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