Interest in gun sports among youth is climbing. In some states, high school-based skeet and trap shooting teams are making headway among students who prefer non-traditional (i.e. not ‘stick-and-ball’) sports or who don’t crave the stadium spotlight. On the college level, competitive shooting teams, fueled by gun industry funding, are also gaining ground.
Then there’s hunting. While not a competitive sport at either the high school or college level (although it should be noted that industry-sponsored bass fishing competitions do exist for both age groups), hunting has been growing in popularity among youth, with some states setting aside ‘youth only’ hunting periods before the opening of official season. And these initiatives could help serve as a portal to bring more young people into shooting sports.
Missouri offers an early youth-only firearms deer season from October 31st to November 1st, and a second time slot from January 2nd to 3rd. Young hunters can purchase reduced-price deer permits, which are half the price of the regular adult (aged 16 and over) firearms permits and are valid for youths ages 6 through 15. Children between the ages of 11 and 15 who have hunter education certification may hunt on their own. Hunters aged 6 to 15 who are not hunter education-certified must be in the immediate presence of a properly licensed adult. The youth-only firearms hunting period coincides with bow-hunting season in Missouri.
In Texas, the state’s Parks and Wildlife Department has established statewide youth-only (aged 16 and under) open seasons for deer, turkey, and squirrel. In most Texas counties, the white-tailed deer youth-only period will take place from October 31st to November 1st. In some counties, there will be a second youth-only season from January 4th through 17th. (Find the specific dates for deer, waterfowl, squirrels and turkeys here.)
Ohio, Kentucky, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma and many other states follow the model, with variations in the ages of the hunters, license requirements and whether the hunts need to be supervised by a licensed adult. Advocates say mentored youth firearms hunting periods encourage both a love of hunting and responsible and safe hunting practices.
When it comes to youth hunting, state laws vary wildly. Some states set a flat minimum hunting age regardless of circumstances, while others allow for “mentored hunting” programs for youth under 10 or 12 years old. The mentored programs often come with a discounted hunting license – as low as $7.50 – for children looking to hunt turkey, small game and deer. In other states, youth under 12 are not required to have a license at all if they’re hunting with parents or guardians with states licenses. (The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a list of all 50 states’ youth hunting regulations here.)
“You wouldn't put a kid who'd never swung a baseball bat into a pivotal game to hit with the bases loaded, two outs and the game on the line,” wrote Ray Sasser for the Dallas Morning News. “A first hunting experience can be just as intense, for both the parent and the child, and all aspects should be considered well in advance.”
Many mentoring programs, such as the one offered in Texas, help parents to understand the special considerations involved in hunting with children. For starters, hunting blinds are often not built to accommodate children, and many find they can’t comfortable see (and shoot) out the windows. These programs can also help parents choose the proper firearm for a child.
“Make sure the kid has an adequate rifle (.222 caliber is the smallest legal caliber allowed for deer hunting) but not so powerful that the recoil hurts the child,” wrote Sasser. “Any shooter afraid of what happens when the trigger is squeezed will not shoot accurately.”
Sasser notes that many ammunition manufacturers today are making reduced recoil ammunition for many popular calibers to accommodate youth hunters (or adult hunters of small and slight build). Using smaller bullets and lighter powder charges, recoil can be cut by as much as half.