Out there: Youngsters should have ability to hunt
By ANDREW McKEAN/Out there
This weekend dozens of people concerned about the future of hunting convened in a number of Montana towns. They gathered to talk about a proposal that's sweeping the nation to lower or even abolish the minimum age at which youngsters can hunt.
Here in Montana, the minimum age is 12, but a body of evidence suggests that by the time a modern child reaches that magic age, they are so consumed by other lures - video games, organized sports, all the distractions of adolescence - that they participate in hunting sporadically, and often reluctantly.
That's a shame. As I wrote last week, hunting, fishing or simply being outside is a wonder and a tonic, and children who spend their youth in nature tend to be more balanced, compassionate and clear-thinking as adults than their indoors-dwelling peers. Plus, there is no shortage of enthusiastic parents eager to introduce their children to hunting at a very early age.
So I have a radical suggestion: Fish, Wildlife and Parks should abolish the minimum hunting age in Montana. I know that sounds dangerous. We'll have toddlers spraying the landscape with bullets, preschoolers poaching, kindergartners lost in the mountains.
No, we won't. Young hunters would have to hunt side-by-side with a licensed adult until they are 14, same as now. And every child would still have to graduate from the state's Hunter Education program. But instead of the current class, which is structured differently from town to town across Montana, I would recommend a more consistent and rigorous program, one in which every student - whether 4 or 44 - would have to handle firearms and participate in a live-fire exercise. That way instructors could ensure that every student appreciates the awful power of a bullet, and that once they choose to fire one, understands that they can never call it back. If a child could demonstrate competency at these skills, the state shouldn't bar them from the field until they reach the arbitrary age of 12.
But I would go further. Every parent who wants to take his or her under-12 son or daughter hunting would have to take the class, too, and learn anew lessons of personal responsibility, survival and gun safety but also additional material on how to safely, sensibly and sustainably introduce children to hunting.
This won't be universally popular, and there are plenty of details to consider, but the alternative to doing nothing is watching the number of hunters dwindle into an insignificant, and aged, few.