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US - hunting on the decline nationwide

Pennsylvania taking steps to find new hunters

By Bob Frye
Sunday, June 26, 2005

America is not doing a very good job of replacing its old hunters with new ones. Pennsylvania, in particular, is doing even worse.

Those facts were revealed in a report commissioned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and National Wild Turkey Federation. Just released, it determined that America, on average, is recruiting only 69 new hunters for every 100 lost to age.

Pennsylvania — listed as one of the 20 most restrictive states in terms of how difficult it is for would-be hunters to try the sport — isn’t even meeting that mark. It’s recruiting just 62 new hunters for every 100 lost.

There are people working to turn things around, however.

A national initiative — called Families Afield — has been launched to remove obstacles to getting people involved in hunting and recruit new hunters. In 34 states, including Pennsylvania, that will mean working to remove regulations that prohibit children from hunting until they’re 12 years old and have passed a hunter safety course.

“There are so many activities available to our youth today, by the time they can legally hunt, they’re interested in other things and we’ve lost them,” Sportsmen’s Alliance president Bud Pidgeon said.

Ohio — which is recruiting 76 new hunters for every 100 lost — is the first state to introduce Families Afield legislation. Stephen Buehrer, a state representative in the Ohio General Assembly, sponsored a bill June 15 that would create an apprentice hunting license. It would allow a person, regardless of age and without having to first pass a safety course, to go hunting, provided he is with a licensed adult mentor who would stay in close proximity at all times.

Here in Pennsylvania, a group known as the Yough Mentored Hunt Committee is working to change the law to allow children younger than 12 to hunt with a licensed mentor without having to first take a hunter safety course.

The group is recommending that youngsters be allowed to hunt deer, turkeys, groundhogs, squirrels, ducks and geese. It has hired lobbyists John and Monica Kline to work on its behalf in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Committee chairman Ron Fretts of Westmoreland County thinks it will take as much as $80,000 to finance a Families Afield campaign in Pennsylvania. So far, the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has contributed $10,000 of that.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs is doing the committee’s bulk mailing and offering other in-kind services. Other sportsmen’s groups are being solicited for financial support and mailing lists of members.

In the meantime, Vern Ross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, is arranging for committee members to meet with commissioners in October. Committee representatives will also be given time to talk to wildlife conservation officers and volunteer youth hunter education instructors this fall.

Sometime soon, Fretts also hopes to invite a representative of the Missouri Department of Conservation to Pennsylvania to speak about that state’s mentored youth hunter program. In place for four years, it’s introduced 92,000 children to hunting without any accidents. The hope is to build enough support to get a bill similar to Ohio’s introduced in Pennsylvania by the first of the year, said Fretts.

“I think it’s going along pretty good. I think by fall we’ll have all our cards on the table,” Fretts said.

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