November 29, 2023

Sending The Wrong Message to Maine’s Youth Hunters?

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Rep. Gilbert of Jay, Maine is sponsoring a bill that would give youth hunters, age 10-15, a chance to shoot an antlerless deer, without a special permit, during the regular firearm season. Let’s be clear, youth hunters in Maine already have their own Saturday before the commencement of the regular firearm season on deer to hunt and bag any deer, while abiding by the existing harvest laws. The bill is being opposed for all the wrong reasons from what I can see.

In an article that appeared in the Bangor Daily News today by Scott Thistle, middle school students from the Spruce Mountain School in Jay, appeared before the Maine Legislative Joint Standing Committee for Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to tell why they support this bill.

The article offers two people who oppose this bill: David Trahan, executive director for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and Don Kliner, Maine Professional Guides Association. Trahan says:

“This testimony does not reflect any of my personal or SAM’s position against young people hunting in the woods,” Trahan said. He said SAM opposed the measure because the number of youth that would be allowed to shoot a doe would have a big impact on the deer that are shot.

And Kliner adds:

The bill sends the wrong message, Kliner said.

“The reason why hunting has been so successful in not only bringing back wildlife populations that were once nearly extinct, including whitetail deer, is that we have rules,” Kliner said. “Rules to promote the conservation, the wise use of the species that we all hold so dear and reverently. I would argue that allowing children to disobey or not take part in the rules robs them of the opportunity to participate in the covenant of conservation that is hunting.”

Can anyone argue the fact that if we can’t get and keep kids in the woods hunting, trapping and fishing, it will not matter the impact on the deer herd or whether or not the wrong message is being sent? We can do better than this.

I fully understand Trahan’s and Kliner’s positions on why they oppose this bill. In addition, I would have to say that this bill, as written and blindly implemented would, more than likely, be a bad idea. This news report and the sponsor of this bill is void of any data needed to convince anybody the bill would work. Where are the data? Where are the numbers that can show the impact would be inconsequential and the effort beneficial?

I recall during the debate as to whether to allow a day for only youth hunters prior to the regular season giving those kids a chance to shoot any sex of deer, bald-headed or not. The claims went up then that the kids would destroy the deer herd. Question: Has that happened? Question: Where are the data to show the impact for or against?

While Trahan boasts of his ability to get the Youth Day hunt going, expanding on that program would seem a positive thing and not something to stop simply by stating it will impact the deer herd enough it shouldn’t be allowed. Will it? Where are the projected numbers to show that? Can the bill be amended so it will work? Is anyone looking into that possibility?

Kliner says we would be sending the wrong message to our kids that they need to follow rules too. Agreed, but is a flat rejection of this bill, without an honest effort to modify it to work, also sending the wrong message? A message that says I really don’t care enough to craft a bill that would work well.

We have had Youth Day for a few years. Certainly there must exist data that can give us an indication as to the impact. If my memory serves me correctly, Lee Kantar, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) head deer biologist, told me at the time of consideration to implement the youth hunt, that he didn’t believe the number of deer taken by youth on one day would have much impact at all. Does he still feel that way?

It is my understanding that in the wording of Rep. Gilbert’s bill, all youth hunters would have to abide by all the existing hunting laws, with the exception that they could harvest an antlerless deer without a permit. That would mean they follow the same harvest restrictions as everyone else, meaning they cannot shoot an antlerless deer in those Wildlife Management Districts where taking of antlerless deer is prohibited. That leaves those zones where permits are issued because the population of deer is such that a harvest of does is part of the management plan for deer.

It seems to me that biologists and wildlife agencies nationwide spend gobs of money creating computer models for just about anything they want an outcome for. Would it be that difficult at the onset of such a bill, to create a model, based on past history, as to how many of those youth hunters would shoot an antlerless deer and with that information, factor it into the logarithm used to determine the allotment of Any-Deer Permits? Can adjustments be made as part of the lottery drawing for Any-Deer Permits, that would give an advantage to youth? Can there be a way for an adult who draws an Any-Deer Permit, to sign it over to a youth? (Perhaps that already exists. Seems there is some amount of swapping of moose permits allowed.)

I think there are ample ways to make hunting laws that will encourage kids to hit the woods, rather that prop up a half-hearted effort thinking your doing the youth a favor. Now, you want to talk about sending wrong messages? Maybe it’s time to show the kids we adults really do care about the hunting heritage and their future in this sport by finding ways to make such proposals work.

I understand the process of proposing bills and the debates etc. I also understand that when bills are poorly crafted – no or little thought going into them, providing no data to support the need and impacts – they sometimes require an up or down vote. It sounds like David Trahan may have found himself in such a predicament. I don’t know.

It also appears that Rep. Gilbert, while his heart and his intentions where in the right place, a better effort should have been made to craft a bill that would benefit the youth, who are the only future to our hunting heritage, and at the same time providing statistical proof of how and why a well-constructed bill would not impact negatively the deer herd.

Rep. Gilbert, in my opinion, is on the right track. He just needs some help and cooperation from MDIFW and others more knowledgeable about crafting good legislative bills.