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This version of hunting age bill may have more legs


Sunday, December 11, 2005 Bob Gwizdz at (517) 487-8888 ext. 237
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Changes often occur at a snail's pace in Lansing. Ideas are brought up, bandied about and often rejected, only to return in another form in subsequent Legislative sessions.

One of the most recent issues surrounding hunting -- reducing the minimum age for firearms deer hunting from 14 to 12 -- is back. But this time, the idea seems to have more legs.

Rep. Scott Hummel, R-DeWitt, has introduced a bill that would allow a 12-year-old to hunt big game (deer, elk and bear) with a firearm on private property while accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Hummel said he was in favor of the idea when it was brought to the floor last session by former Rep. Sue Tabor. He said that if youngsters can hunt small game, which often involves covering ground while carrying loaded firearms, then more stationary big-game hunting should be acceptable, too.

He has a point. But there's also an issue of what firearms the kids are carrying. A shotgun with bird shot has a lethal (to humans) distance of, what, 40 yards? Not so with a .243.

The Department of Natural Resources, which opposed Tabor's effort last session, says it's in favor of Hummel's bill this time around, but the agency has trouble with a couple of the specifics.

For instance: The DNR thinks there may be no need to restrict hunting to private lands-only. The DNR would much rather see that decision made by the Natural Resources Commission, which might be able to find some middle ground -- allowing hunting on public land on state management areas, for instance, or as part of a department-sponsored mentoring program.

NRC chairman Keith Charters said he would prefer that the Legislature not have to reopen the law, as it would under Hummel's bill, if the hunt were to be expanded to public land as well.

Hummel, for his part, has no objection to this idea; "I was looking at what could I get done," he said. "I'm more than happy to expand that to include public lands as well. I was thinking of private lands, because of the safety issue, as a first step."

Similarly, the DNR has an issue with what "accompanied by a parent or guardian" actually means. Can a guy sit his son on a stump, move to another blind 200 yards away and still accompany his youngster?

Hummel accepts that question, too.

"Most people would interpret that as, `Son I'm in the blind with you,' or `Daughter, I'm in the blind with you.' But, we do need to define a little better what that means."

Hummel said we can expect a substitute bill addressing those issues at some point in the process.

When the DNR objected to Tabor's bill, it promised to study the issue and report back. The DNR subsequently created a work group to address hunter recruitment and retention and among the recommendations from that group was lowering the minimum age for firearms deer hunters.

Michigan is fairly unique in the Midwest with its minimum age requirements; I can't tell you how many guys I know who took their youngsters to Indiana for their first small game hunt because they weren't yet 12 years old. Other states do not report significantly higher accident rates despite lacking minimum age requirements.

But there's an issue there, too; Michigan requires youngsters to undergo hunter safety training. Does this state have the capacity to run perhaps twice as many youngsters through a program this year than it did last year?

The questions will, of course, come out in the wash. There's no special hurry; if the law is passed by say, April, there will be time to get the new regulations in the annual hunting publication.

So the view from here is that Hummel's bill, rewritten to address the DNR's points, is likely to move to the front burner by early in 2006.

And if I were a gambling man, I'd bet you a nickel there's another 100,000 or so deer hunters in Michigan next year.
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