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Outdoors: Passing the torch important for future of hunting

Our hunting heritage is slowly starting to diminish. With each passing year, overall numbers across the country have been dropping off. According to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service every five years (in conjunction with the annual census), more than 101 million people in this country participated in some form of outdoor recreation. That’s 40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older involved with fishing, hunting or outdoor recreation such as birding or outdoor photography. That on the surface is pretty good.

In 2016, hunting numbers came in a 11.5 million as far as participants. Just under 12 million hunting licenses were sold across the country, helping to support state and Federal wildlife programs. Additional revenues through excise taxes paid by hunters are critical for wildlife and habitat conservation funding efforts. In the bigger economic picture, hunters spent $25.6 billion in hunting-related expenditures, an important money machine when it comes to the economy. However, the numbers are slowly falling into a downward spiral.

In 2011, the number of hunting participants was over 14 million individuals age 16 and older. In 2006 the total number was sitting at 18 million.

Not only are there fewer hunters, they are spending less time in the field. In 2006, hunters went out over 20 times over the course of a calendar year. In 2011, that number was a solid 20. In 2016, that number was just above 15 days per year.

Yes, we are getting older. We aren’t in the field as much, especially if the weather isn’t favorable. The “silent generation” is starting to reach an age (hitting 73 on the low end and 93 on the high end) where they are no longer active participants or, worse yet, they are no longer with us. Baby boomers are as old as 72 years of age now. The drop in overall hunting numbers indicates we are not replacing the ones we are losing fast enough. Recruitment into the ranks is essential.

It’s time for New York State sportsmen and sportswomen to help themselves by taking the lead in making some significant changes that can help to turn things around in the fight to bolster the hunting cause. At the top of the list should be passing legislation allowing a 12-year-old to hunt big game with firearms. Here’s why.

For starters, 12-year-old junior hunters can already carry a gun in the Empire State. They can hunt for waterfowl, turkey, rabbit, squirrel and other legal small game . . . under the supervision of a parent or guardian. They must pass a hunter safety training class before they can hunt so the basic foundation of safety and education has already been laid. Deer hunting is the most popular type of hunting in the state. Why shouldn’t junior hunters be allowed to hunt big game and use a firearm?

The real kicker is that New York is the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow a 12-year-old to hunt big game, even with adult supervision. We are losing the next generation of deer hunters in those two years. Yes, junior nimrods can hunt with a bow at 12, but that’s a much smaller percentage when you look at the big picture.

Arnie Jonathan of AJ's Guide Service instructs how to call in a deer during a youth hunt. Junior archers can hunt deer at 12 years of age but they can't use a firearm until they reach the age of 14 for big game.

There is a glimmer of hope regarding legislation to allow for 12-year-old hunters to pursue big game with firearms. Earlier this year, Senate Bill S3156 moved through the EnCon (Environmental Conservation) Committee and passed in a floor vote of 47 to 13 last month. That’s only the first step.

“The future of hunting, as well as the conservation of our resources, is irrevocably tied to the recruitment and retention of our youth to these time-honored traditions,” said Larry Becker of Pike, former chairman of the NY Sportsmen’s Advisory Council. “Statistics indicate that youth hunters under the direct guidance of a mentor are the safest category of hunter afield. Hunting at an early age imprints in youth the mindset that game management and environmental stewardship go hand in hand while teaching respect for the law, hunting ethics and proper safe gun handling.” We are losing that battle.

Members of the hunting fraternity need to perform due diligence and fight for the things that they believe in. If it takes writing letters or making phone calls, so be it. Currently, Assembly Bill A0477 (which is identical to S3156) allowing for 12-year-old junior hunters the privilege to hunt big game with firearms is being held hostage in the Assembly EnCon Committee and is not being released by Assemblyman Steven Englebright, the committee chair. Respectfully ask for him to release the bill from committee and push for a floor vote. Tell him to support it. And tell whoever your Assembly representative is to get it out of committee and support it.

On a similar note, the NY Crossbow Coalition is pushing for more relaxed regulations with their usage and this also impacts junior hunters. During the Youth Deer Hunt held during the three-day Columbus Day Weekend, no crossbows are allowed – because they are not considered archery equipment. Only 14 and 15-year-old junior hunters can pursue big game during the special hunt. Find out more information at www.nycrossbowcoalition.com. Join the cause and, again, write letters and make phone calls.

In addition to the special Youth Hunt for deer (and bear) in October, youth hunts are also available for spring turkey (April 21-22 this year), waterfowl and pheasant. These are opportunities to take kids afield to share your past experiences and plant a seed for the future. Every one of these hunts require a mentor with experience to accompany junior hunters. Make the time, no matter how busy you are. You won’t regret it.

There are a fair number of veteran hunters that go above and beyond the (game) call of duty. You know who you are. Take your efforts a step further and bring along an adult to help show them the ropes on dealing with the next generation. Help increase the numbers in the junior ranks by increasing the numbers in the adult ranks.

To find out more about the state’s Junior Hunter Mentoring Program, check out www.dec.ny.gov. Now is the time to start making an impact – for today and for the future.

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