Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frye: PA Mentored Youth Proposal A Hot-Button Issue

By Bob Frye 

Consider the hornet's nest officially — and violently — stirred.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners are scheduled to meet next Sunday through Tuesday. They will give preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2015-16 hunting and trapping seasons.

That, alone, would make the meeting controversial. There's always someone unhappy with deer seasons.

But it's something else on the agenda that's really got people worked up.

Commissioners will consider a change to the mentored youth hunting program, which allows children, regardless of age, to hunt squirrels, groundhogs, coyotes, turkeys and deer with an adult mentor.

The proposal before the board would maintain the rules for those age 9 and older, but prohibit kids age 8 and younger from hunting turkeys and deer.

The intent, according to the agenda, is to address “concern over the appropriateness of young children's abilities to utilize high-powered firearms to harvest big game, as well as allegations of adults utilizing the harvest tags of mentored youth unlawfully.”

That's where things get murky.

According to commission figures, mentored youths took 2.5 percent of the total deer killed in 2012-13, with only four-tenths of 1 percent killed by kids ages 6 to 8. None younger harvested a deer.

Anecdotal evidence suggests some of those deer likely were killed not by a child, but by an adult.

“What we're running into mostly is the kid not even being there and the adult being in possession of that tag,” said Tom Fazi, spokesman in the commission's southwest region office.

But no one can say precisely how often that's occurring.

Fazi could not quantify how many such violations are being encountered, nor could Michael Reeder, a spokesman in the commission's law enforcement headquarters.

Given that lack of evidence — and all the good mentored hunting has achieved — there's no way the commission should be looking to change it, said Rob Sexton, spokesman for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to adopt “Families Afield” legislation doing away with a minimum hunting age in 2006.

Thirty-four states have since followed suit, putting 1.2 million new people in the woods,
While it's almost assuredly true some adults are illegally taking advantage of the program, there's nothing to suggest it's happening often enough to make a change that would impact nearly one-third of the 34,000 mentored youth in Pennsylvania, he added.

“In our world we arrest the violators and treat everyone else with respect,” he said. “We don't treat the law-abiding with the same meat clever we use on those who break the law.”
The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, National Rifle Association, National Wild Turkey Federation and National Shooting Sports Foundation are in agreement.
Sexton said he hopes commissioners will remove the proposal from their agenda before next week's meeting.

Game commissioner Ron Weaner of Adams County said board members have become well aware of how passionately people feel about this issue. The reaction has been unexpectedly loud, he said. But he wants to hear from more next week.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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