Jesse Wildman’s father introduced him to hunting when he was 14 — starting with archery equipment and graduating to firearms at 16. Nearly 20 years later, hunters as young as 12 could soon have that same opportunity.
The Cortland County Legislature will have a public hearing at 6 p.m. today, to accept comments on a proposed local law that would lower the age for big game hunters to 12 from 14 in an 30-month pilot program. This law would allow young licensed hunters to hunt deer with a firearm or crossbow during
hunting season with the supervision of a licensed adult.
Wildman, now 31, has been dedicated to the hunting community since his teen years.
He oversaw a hunting club for nearly a decade and started a chapter for the Quality Deer Management Association. Wildman said he supports the law that would lower the hunting age.
“Lowering the age to 12 will not only benefit youth hunters, but also the hunting community, conservation funding, and the state of New York,” Wildman said. “It will help kids get outdoors and
will also allow more time to be spent with family and friends.”
Earlier this year, the state Legislature adopted a temporary program through 2023 for young hunters in counties that choose to participate. Each county must adopt a local law to opt into the program and allow the hunting opportunity — this is what’s on the agenda for tonight.
New York already allows junior bowhunters ages 12 through 15 to hunt big game with a bow under adult supervision.
The local law would allow these young hunters to use a shotgun, rifle or muzzle-loading gun in addition to a crossbow. The teenagers must also be licensed, which requires them to complete a hunter safety course.
“I’m totally for it,” said Sheila “Sam” Morse, a hunter safety instructor and the secretary/treasurer for Blodgett Mills Sportsman Club in Cortlandville. “The students, as young as 11, take this course and they’re excited to hunt. If they show responsibility, then let them hunt.”
The Cortland County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs wrote a letter to the Legislature in support of opting into the pilot program for the lowered hunting age, Morse said.
“Hunting is a great sport and it’s better than just playing video games,” Morse said. “It actually gets them outside in nature.”
The two-year pilot program begins June 1 and expires Dec. 31, 2023. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will be required to prepare a report by Feb. 1 of each year that includes the number of violations, hunting-related accidents and revocations, the number of counties participating, number of minors participating and the number of deer taken.
The DEC is funded in part by hunters, Wildman said, including money from the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, a nationwide tax on hunting and fishing equipment that generated $6.2 billion in 2018.
The funding is used to manage and restore wildlife, and Wildman said he expects that lowering the hunting age would help increase hunter recruitment, and help to fund conservation efforts.
“The number of hunters in North America is steadily dropping, which in turn means there will be a larger shortage in funding for fish and wildlife conservation,” Wildman said. “Lowering the age for hunting deer with a firearm, along with adult supervision, to age 12 will not only benefit the youth and the families, but it will also help with conservation funding.”