When it comes to junior hunters and hunting safety, I am old school. A former certified hunting safety instructor and father of two sons who were brought up with guns, my boys were indoctrinated early and often in all of the protocols of safe gun handling and safe hunting practices. (Each of them, at my insistence, took the state-certified hunting safety courses, not once, but twice!).
Here is the way I see it. Because we are all prone to mental lapses and stupid mistakes, whether young or old, you really can’t overdo it when it comes to firearms safety. Bullets are final, and they can’t be called back.
This may explain why recent deliberations about the future of the Hunter Safety Program conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W) have me concerned.
The upshot is this: More and more states are transitioning to online versions of hunter safety training, including Maine. Admittedly, the COVID era has created a whole new paradigm when it comes to communication and human interaction. Even a graybeard like me has discovered and conceded that conducting business via the so-called Zoom format has some advantages. The challenge, I believe, is knowing when to Zoom and when not to Zoom or get together in person.
No doubt MDIF&W policymakers like the convenience and cost-savings aspects of a virtual classroom for hunter safety training. But is it the way to go? This is serious business, hunter safety training. And having taught hunter safety to people of all ages, I deeply believe there is no substitute for personal contact and hands-on training. I challenge MDIF&W to find an experienced hunter safety instructor who disagrees with this assessment.
While on the subject, did you know that, in Maine, licensed junior hunters are not required to take the certified state hunter safety course? This, coupled with the recent change that sets no minimum age for the purchase of a junior hunting license, strikes me as far too lenient. For example, under the present guidelines, a 5-year-old licensed hunter may deer hunt with a high-powered rifle as long as he or she is “within 20 feet of a qualified parent or guardian”! Does that distance truly meet the criteria, which is by law, “effective control”?
Conversely, if I read the law correctly, that same licensed 5-year-old junior hunter may hunt alone “without supervision” if he or she has satisfactorily passed a hunter safety course!
The rationale for allowing junior hunters of any age was laudable to this extent: it recognized that responsible parents can best judge a youngster’s maturity and good sense better than the government. So far so good. But the trend toward online hunter safety training and the new non-minimum age for junior hunters has the uncomfortable look of a perfect storm brewing on the horizon in the realm of Maine hunting safety.
This entire facet of junior hunters and hunter safety training needs to be revisited by Augusta fish and wildlife policymakers and the hunter safety training community.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]