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Start ‘Em Early: Legislature Removes Minimum Hunting Age

Forget arming the teachers; why not just arm the kids?

The South Dakota Legislature seems to think any child of any age may be responsible enough to carry a firearm and hunt. On Monday, the House passed Senate Bill 137, which strikes the minimum age for hunting. Current statute says kids have to be at least ten years old to hunt. SB 137 lets parents decide when Junior is old enough to carry a gun in the field:

House members voted 44-20 to send SB 137 for the governor’s review. The Senate approved it 30-4 Feb. 4. Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, was prime sponsor. Lead House sponsor was Rep. Herman Otten, R-Lennox.

The minimum age has been 10 for mentored hunting. But 35 states don’t have minimum ages, according to Otten.

Parents could best judge children’s abilities, Otten said [Bob Mercer, “South Dakota House Erases Minimum Age for Hunters,” Rapid City Journal, 2018.03.07].

SB 137 does not change the requirement that hunters under 16 be accompanied by an unarmed but licensed hunting mentor (parent, guardian, or other competent adult with a note from the child’s parent or guardian).

Wisconsin eliminated its minimum hunting age last November.

I suppose this new no-minimum-age policy can police itself. Dads and moms (and we may need to lean heavily on moms, since they seem to be the partners evolutionarily inclined to keep the children alive) will decide whether to arm their children in pursuit of the wily pheasant, and other hunters will decide whether they want to go out in the field with their buddies’ armed five year olds.

But SB 137 does get me wondering about other situations where we might arm our children. Statute already allows over half of the K-12 school-age population to carry firearms and shoot at critters. If parents think their children can responsibly wield firearms in a hunting party, what’s to stop us from extending that parental consent to authorize junior school sentinels? One armed school resource officer didn’t deter the school shooting in Florida; a few armed teachers may not do the job, either. But arm the kids and guarantee the shooters a firefight in every classroom, and the problem is solved, right?


  1. Rorschach 2018-03-07 07:13

    Years ago the NRA looked at demographic trends and decided they had to do something about the fact that fewer young people were following their parents into family hunting traditions. They pushed bills to lower hunting ages and to repeal – yes repeal – firearm training requirements for young hunters. They accomplished this in South Dakota years ago. Still the demographic trend of fewer young hunters continues. The NRA views this trend as an existential threat.

    A couple of weeks ago an article was published to highlight the fact former GOP congressman and now tv personality Joe Scarborough has evolved on guns. The article contained excerpts from his NRA candidate survey from 1996 or 1998. What was more interesting to me than how Scarborough has evolved was seeing how the NRA’s positions have evolved. Here’s the NRA’s own policy statement in that survey:

    “The NRA does not oppose an expansion of instant checks to firearms sales by non-dealers at gun shows, provided that such checks are made readily available and conducted in a non-bureaucratic manner to account for the unique and temporary nature of these events.”

    So we’re all on the same page then? No. The NRA isn’t on that page anymore. That group used to be pro-safety training. Pro background check. Now it’s just in favor of more guns for anyone anytime anywhere – no questions asked.

  2. Jason 2018-03-07 07:27

    At least 34 States have no minimum hunting age. It’s about time South Dakota does the same. Only the Parent knows when their child is ready to hunt.

  3. Mike Buckingham 2018-03-07 08:24

    Hunter Education has never been repealed. In fact I argue that hunter safety has been improved with the mentorship program. Youth under the age of 12 can hunt under very specific rules to include a maximum number of upland game bird hunters in the field when a mentored youth is present, the immediate physical control of the youth by a parent or guardian or a designated adult who has passed the Hunt Safe Course. Being able to experience hunting under the guidance of an experience adult and take that into the classroom enhances the current hunt safe course taught by certified Hunt Safe Instructors. Until they have passed the hunt safe course even after the age of 12 they can still be mentored so the pressure is off the Hunt Safe Instructors to pass every student until they demonstrate safe firearm use. I have been told that adults are taking the Hunt Safe Course for the first time or repeating the course so they can mentor youth, another positive result of this program.

    I introduced this bill 10 years ago to get youth off of the electronic games and back into the fields and encourage more family time. In the Black Hills my wife and I mentor youth in a program sponsored by Big Brothers and Sisters called Youth Hunting Adventures were adults mentor youth who come from single parent or families who do not have a outdoor experience.

    Anything we can do to make connections with our youth only makes our communities stronger.

  4. Ryan 2018-03-07 08:53

    I probably agree with the no age limit for hunting issue, but mostly just out of principle, not because it’s a good idea. I just don’t like arbitrary laws, and setting an age like 10 years old for maturity in weapon-wielding situations seems arbitrary.

    It’s a romantic idea that “the parents are the ones who should decide _______ for their own kids…” but I think the problem is that lots of people aren’t very good parents. Parents aren’t anything special, and you don’t learn common sense just because you or your partner got knocked up. Anybody can be a parent, so there are plenty of idiots out there who have immature and irresponsible kids, and those people will probably let their kids play with guns whether the useless fools in Pierre say they can or not, so what the heck.

  5. jerry 2018-03-07 09:14

    My parents did decide when I could carry a gun. I used to carry one checking traps when I was around 9 or so. As I was very careful with that .22, it would have seemed that all was safe in that regard. Just before my 11th birthday, I got my NRA hunter certification so I was approved and trained by a certified NRA counselor to hunt (kept that card as a matter of pride). First hunting gun was a Stevens .410, 5 shot and light enough for me to carry in the field. My older brother’s 20ga and my dad’s 12ga were just too heavy to be packing along on long walking hunts and also too hard to manuver in the back of the pickup hunting grouse in the stubble fields.

    So what is my point about nostalgia lane, I think that if your parents agree you are responsible enough to carry a loaded gun and if you have proper certificatiion to do that, you should be able to hunt with supervision. Truth be known, in my life as both a hunter and an old fart, I am very careful when there is a kid in the hunt, just like I am when there are adults in the hunt who are drinking. Both are legal, but both are worth watching closely. Us kids though, need to go through hunter safety classes though, from whomever will certify that us kids were trained in gun safety. In my case, it was the NRA back when they used to give a damn about hunters.

  6. Loren 2018-03-07 09:22

    So, will a “child of any age” be able to buy that AR-15 for hunting? Never know when he/she might be attacked by a raging prairie dog. The bigger the magazine, the safer it will be for the tyke… and a silencer so as not to wake the neighbors. !@#%^&*!

  7. bearcreekbat 2018-03-07 09:51

    If I recall correctly, a child under the age of 10 cannot be charged with committing a crime or as a juvenile delinquent. We deem those people under 10 to be incapable of forming any criminal intent. By arming them, we are giving them license to kill people without repercussion. So if your 9 year old gets angry during the hunt and decides to shoot his 6 year old irritating brother, too bad.

    And what was the factual evidence of the need for this repeal. Did a bunch of kids under 10 testify? Did the parents of kids under 10 complain about being prosecuted for letting their underage kids hunt? Or is this the typical SD legislative “solution” in search of a “problem?”

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-03-07 10:31

    Mike, thanks for that historical legislative perspective. I appreciate the notion of getting kids off the couch and spending time in the outdoors with their parents. In that regard, maybe letting younger kids hunt with a parent isn’t such a bad idea, as long as parents exercise good judgment. Real parental involvement is key to making this bill tolerable.

    But I wonder: when will Nintendo catch on to your ploy and send lobbyists to Pierre to discourage youth hunting? :-D

  9. Randee Huber 2018-03-07 11:53

    What has happened to your facebook posts? Just a title, and then it takes forever to load up. Did I miss some information somewhere along the line?

  10. mike from iowa 2018-03-07 11:57

    Only the Parent knows when their child is ready to hunt.

    What if you just adopted a 10 year old? Is that child ready to hunt?
    How would the parent know?

    This unnecessary law will cost much in lives and finances. Maybe you should just take away all electronic gizmos and force kids to join the Russia funded NRA.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-03-07 12:23

    [Randee—good question! I didn’t change anything on my end; Facebook did some weird stuff last week and stopped reading my metadata last month. I’ll keep looking under the hood for a solution!]

  12. Rorschach 2018-03-07 19:09

    Mike Buckingham’s comment here is misleading at best. His bill did in fact allow kids under 16 to hunt without first taking firearms safety training by doing away with the requirement that kids get a hunting license to do that hunting with their “mentor.” If kids get a hunting license, SDCL 41-6-14 requires them to take a firearms safety course, and that law remains unchanged going back to 1998:

    41-6-14. Safety instruction required for licensing of child under sixteen–Fee waived. Any person between the ages of eleven years and sixteen years shall first comply with the provisions of chapter 41-7, pertaining to firearms safety, before being granted a resident hunting license or the applicable nonresident hunting licenses.

    However, Mike Buckingham’s bill says the child as young as 10 can hunt without a license – with a “mentor.” It further says that when a child is hunting without a license, only the “mentor” needs to take the safety course. Mike Buckingham knows this, and I can only presume chose to intentionally mislead the readers here. If you listen to the audio on the house floor this very issue is specifically discussed by Mike Buckingham, who said the NRA was worried about “dumbing down” the gun safety course for young children – so they instead pushed a bill to eliminate safety training entirely.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-03-08 06:17

    Bearcreekbat, that’s a really interesting point about criminal intent. Maybe we should change the juvenile crime statute to say that kids can’t commit crimes unless they are accompanied by a parent, guardian, or other criminal mentor….

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-03-08 06:18

    That’s interesting, Ror—if the NRA recognizes that kids are too young to understand the standard hunting safety course, that suggests that those kids are too young to understand gun safety in general.

Comments are closed.