| SALMON, Idaho
SALMON, Idaho Jan 23 Idaho wildlife managers
are aiming to allow children as young as 10 years old to hunt
big game such as bears and mountain lions, lowering the
permissible age from 12 to recruit more young hunters.
Under a measure expected to be approved by the state's
Republican-led legislature, children ages 10 and 11 could use
long-range rifles to take down everything from elk to wolves,
provided the youngsters have passed a hunter education course
and are accompanied by an adult licensed to hunt in Idaho.
For years, sales of hunting and fishing licenses in Idaho
have been flat, hovering at 335,000 in 2013 despite growth in
the state's overall population, wildlife managers say.
Department of Fish and Game officials hope to boost the number
of licensed hunters by promoting hunting as a form of family
recreation in an era where children are often preoccupied with
more sedentary activities such as texting and electronic gaming.
Fish and Game Deputy Director Sharon Kiefer said the
campaign to expand hunting options comes as more wives and
mothers are engaged in the sport. She conceded that the proposal
may not be welcomed by parents with mixed feelings about a child
aged 10 or 11 in the field with a powerful firearm.
"This is not a mandate and we're not in a position of
dictating that. It just opens the opportunity for parental
discretion and family outings," she said.
Many U.S. states do not set a minimum hunting age, but
impose requirements such as hunter education courses that would
tend to exclude young children, said Evan Heusinkveld, vice
president of government affairs for the U.S. Sportsmen's
But most Western U.S. states, including Colorado and
Montana, where big game hunting is more common, require children
to be 12 or older to hunt such animals with an accompanying
adult, according to data from the National Conference of State
Age restrictions for hunting big game are partly due to
challenges posed by rugged terrain and the complicated
ballistics involved in shooting at long distances. Of the states
that place age limits on hunting, only a small number, including
Maine and Nebraska, allow 10-year-olds to hunt big game.
Bill Brassard, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports
Foundation, said apprentice hunting programs that pair young
children or novices with skilled hunters have been successful at
preventing shooting accidents.
Tony Latham, retired Idaho conservation officer and former
hunter education instructor, said he was wary of allowing
10-year-olds in the field with a rifle that can shoot a bullet
for miles. He said even scaled-down versions of hunting rifles
known as youth-model guns may be too weighty for small children.
"I'm hesitant from a maturity standpoint and from the size
of a 10-year-old in relation to a 7- or 8-pound rifle. I'm not
quite seeing the math, to tell you the truth," he said.
Jim Toynbee, a hunter education instructor in Idaho for 40
years, said he favors lowering the minimum age of big-game
hunters if it encourages children to embrace outdoor recreation.
"We're on the right track if we're introducing young
children to Mother Nature," he said.
The plan would not have been as feasible in previous decades
when firearms manufacturers did not produce youth-model guns,
Toynbee said. But one possible downside of younger hunters are
more poor shots.
"Children get so excited that they may wound animals by
taking shots that experienced hunters wouldn't," he said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and