By Brian McCombie
Just a week before his state’s gun deer season opened, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) signed into law a bill eliminating the Dairy State’s minimum hunting age.
According to the Associated Press (AP), “A Wisconsin resident must be at least 12 years old to purchase a hunting license or hunt with a gun. However, until now children as young as 10 could participate in a mentored hunt.... The mentor and student could only have one gun between them, and they had to stay within arm’s reach of one another. The new law allows children of any age to participate in a mentored hunt and allows mentor and student to carry their own weapon.”
The AP also noted that 34 states have no minimum age requirement before a person can hunt.
Mossy Oak’s own Ben Maki, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, introduced all three of his children to hunting at an early age. His middle child, Hawkins, began tagging along with Maki on hunts when Hawkins was just six years old.
“His first hunt of his own was for whitetails and he shot his first deer at age seven,” Maki said. “My daughters Arabella and Izzie killed their first deer at 9 and 8 respectively.”
First and foremost, Maki first stressed gun safety and making sure his children were comfortable and competent with their firearms.
“Rather than forcing any of my kids to endure the repeated recoil of a .243, I trained them with a bolt-action .22 rimfire rifle with a scope,” Maki explains. “The sight acquisition, trigger control and bolt throw were all similar enough that, once they were comfortable and were consistently shooting groups, I moved them up to a .243.”
It doesn’t stop there.
“We have a tradition every year before hunting season. They have to show me they’re ready by putting three kill shots in a cardboard cutout of a deer,” Maki added. “I use blank cardboard with no graphic or target dot to force them to pick a spot themselves.”
Beyond firearms safety, Maki thinks parents need to make hunting enjoyable.
“You need to make the whole hunt a fun experience,” Maki said. “Manage their expectations and let them enjoy the experience and not focus solely on ‘getting one.’ I spend months preparing my farm for my kids’ hunts, and my goal is for them to see a lot of deer and be engaged. It’s a rare minute away from electronics and the frenetic pace we’ve all grown accustomed to. A chance set down your cell and just be present.”
One last extremely important tip: “Bring lots of snacks!”
Maki and his children are in good company with the very successful Families Afield initiative. Families Afield introduces young people to our sport through an “apprentice hunting license” approach. Launched by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) several years ago, Families Afield is also sponsored by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and the National Rifle Association.
The program urges states to adopt the “try before you buy” approach to hunting, and has taken on national momentum. In essence, Families Afield allows a person (of any age, though the vast majority are youngsters) to try hunting prior to the completion of hunter education--as long as that person is under the direct supervision of an experienced mentor.
Today, 33 states sell Apprentice or Mentored Hunting Licenses. From 2006 to 2012, more than 1,006,269 apprentice licenses were sold across the United States. Each year, the number of apprentices continues to increase as additional states enact Families Afield style legislation or regulations.
In Wisconsin, anti-hunting groups and politicians had opposed the new law removing the minimum age to hunt, arguing the change would lead to unsafe hunting conditions. One state representative even went so far as to claim it would lead to armed “toddlers” roaming the woods!
Yet, Families Afield data reveals that these young newcomers, under supervision as apprentice hunters, are more than four times safer than the general hunting population.
The Wisconsin bill was championed by Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R – 38th Dist.), an avid hunter who chairs the Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee. Kleefisch told the AP his own daughter took her first game animal when she was eight years old, with his guidance and supervision.
“This bill will allow responsible hunters to get kids off the couch and off the electronics and into the woods,” Kleefisch told the AP. “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the look on someone’s face when they harvest their first animal.”