While most of the nation is trying to get guns out of the hands of children, the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) is trying to put them in.
While the nation worries about gun safety education, the NASC is trying to scrap it for beginning hunters.
And while the nation tries to mentor children academically, NASC is trying to mentor them in hunting.
The new proposed laws are part of the NASC’s Families Afield initiative to fight the declining number of hunters–there were two million less hunters in 2004 than 1982–by making it easier for young hunters to pick up the sport. Specifically the laws repeal regulations that prohibit children from hunting until they’re 12 and have passed a hunter safety course–barriers to hunting NASC calls them.
Much of the nation laughed when Wisconsin tried to reduce the barrier to eight-year-olds hunting in January. (Eight-year-olds are just learning cursive writing and "still believe in Santa Claus," protested Wisconsin resident Joe Slattery whose own son was killed by a child hunter.) Until it passed the House of Representatives.
Similar youth hunting laws have sailed through 13 other state legislatures–fast tracked by the many hunting groups that comprise NASC–and are in the works in 21 more.
Besides lowering the hunting age, Families Afield legislation legalizes "apprentice" hunting licenses–the apprentice can hunt under the direct supervision of a licensed adult hunter before completing hunter safety training–effectively putting "training back into the hands of Uncle Joe," charges hunter safety instructor Dave Dalton in the Detroit Free Press.
It’s easy to see why hunting is declining in popularity. Seasoned hunters find malls and housing developments where hunting grounds used to be–you can’t just shoot a rabbit in the backyard for dinner anymore they say–and lack the time to travel to far out locations.
And new hunters?
"I lost my son for about six years to a little red sports car and blond girls," laments William J. Klein, a backer of Pennsylvania’s Families Afield legislation and supervisor for the Ruffed Grouse Society. "They hit 17, 18, they’d rather go to a football game than go out hunting."
It’s less easy to see why hunting should be kept alive.
Though State Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) author of Wisconsin’s eight-year-old hunter bill and a gun shop owner denies it–"We’re not doing this for money. This is about getting kids involved in hunting at a younger age [so they] participate for the rest of their lives"–most admit Families Afield legislation is about the money.
"We need this law because for every 100 hunters who retire, only 62 take up the sport," said Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell at a ceremonial signing of Families Afield legislation at the Pitcairn-Monroeville Rod and Gun Club in Allegheny County. "If this trend continues, our ability to manage wildlife will be severely affected and Pennsylvania’s economy will suffer."
So much money that states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin actually breed pheasants and license deer farms all the while claiming overpopulating wildlife needs to be "managed."
("Controlled" or canned hunts of hand raised, tame birds are so lucrative, New York State even enlists area youth to raise pheasant chicks for them.)
But there’s also good old American values.
"One of the things I really enjoy about taking my son out is he gets to appreciate what God gave us and how beautiful our nature is," exalts Bobby Purcell, a member of North Carolina’s wildlife commission and executive director of the Wolfpack Club. "It’s not all about just hunting. It’s more about respecting and conserving nature."
But Shawn Meyer, a northern Indiana sportsman and full time youth pastor, disagrees. Young kids may be "unable to appreciate a hunt that ends without something being harvested" he writes on his web site hunt-with-a-kid.
"Five-year-olds and under will get more out of an outing if it’s plinking squirrels, catching bluegills, gigging frogs, or blowing a box of shells on doves than if it’s sitting motionless for hours on end," he advises. In other words, boredom can be a barrier to hunting, too.