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N.D. considers lowering hunting age to 12

1/13/2006

FARGO, N.D. — Jeffrey Sapa turned 14 years old just one
week after the deer hunting season — a week too late for him to
qualify for a hunting license.

His stepfather, Lee Bratlie, and other outdoor enthusiasts in
North Dakota believe young hunters like Jeffrey should not have to
wait so long to go on their first deer hunt. They want to lower the
minimum age requirement for shooting big game from 14 years to 12 —
a move they also say would help recruit young hunters.

"He's really disappointed and disgusted," said Bratlie, of
Drayton. "He passed his hunter education class with flying colors,
but he still has to wait another year."

North Dakota is one of four states that require deer gun hunters
to be at least 14 years old. Two of those states, Michigan and
Utah, are considering legislation to lower the age.

Those states are among 20 considered to be the most restrictive
for deer hunting, according to a report funded by the National
Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
They require hunters to be at least 12 years old to get a deer gun
license, and most of those require applicants to complete a hunter
safety course.

Of the other 30 states, 13 have no minimum age requirements for
big game, but they require a hunter safety course. Seventeen
states, including Florida, Texas and Alaska, have no restrictions,
the report said.

The bill in the Michigan Legislature was introduced by Rep.
Scott Hummel, who cited the sportsmen's groups report showing his
state as the worst for recruiting new hunters. North Dakota is
ranked 40th.

"I think the rest of the country believes there's benefits to
getting kids involved earlier," Hummel said.

Recruiting is important because white-tailed deer populations
have ballooned after a series of mild winters, Bratlie said. A
record 145,600 deer gun licenses were available in North Dakota
this season, up from the previous high of 145,250 the year before.

Bratlie hopes to gather support to change the law before 2007,
when the North Dakota Legislature meets again. The issue has been
discussed in legislative committee meetings in the past but didn't
make it any further, said Greg Link, assistant wildlife chief for
the state Game and Fish Department.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department would have to get
behind the idea before it receives serious consideration, said
state Rep. Duane DeKrey.

"I took a 14-year-old hunting this year," he said. "That's
plenty young."

Some veteran hunters also want to keep the current age minimum.
Dave Schneibel, of Rugby, says it's a safety issue.

"We're pretty heavily crowded up this area, especially during
the first couple of weeks of the deer season," Schneibel said. "I
don't know if I trust a 12-year-old out there with a rifle or not.

"On the other hand, there are a lot of mature 12 years olds and
guys who are 40 years old who should not be hunting," he said.

Bill Jensen, the state's big game biologist, said it would take
a grassroots campaign to change the state law.

"I can't speak for the department," Jensen said, "but
frankly, I don't think a lot of North Dakotans are aware that
everybody else has less restrictive laws for hunting."

Jensen's 12-year-old son, like Bratlie's stepson, also has
passed a hunter safety course. He's counting the days until he can
hunt.

"He's whining," Jensen said.