As the 126th Legislature begins hearing and working their way through the massive amount of bills put before them, the ones I am most interested in are those that will impact hunting and fishing across Maine. I attended the public hearing on Tuesday for the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee to hear what was on the table.
Two bills, LD79 and LD101 involved the youth deer hunt. LD79 was sponsored by Representative Jeffery Gifford and states, “An Act To Allow a Junior Hunter To Shoot Any Deer on Opening Day of Hunting Season” aimed to allow any youth hunter (aged 10-15) to shoot a doe or buck regardless of where they are in the State. Currently, there are wildlife management districts (WMD) that do not issue antler-less deer permits because of the need to grow the herd in those areas. LD79 would make this a non-issue and would allow all youth hunters to take either a buck or doe. This law would apply every year for the youth hunter, from the time they are 10 until they age out at 16.
The other bill, LD101, sponsored by Representative Paul Gilbert states “An Act To Allow a Junior Hunter To Take One Antlerless Deer without an Antlerless Deer Permit.” in areas where antler-less deer permits are allowed and after their first deer was shot, the young hunter would have to abide by the laws in that WMD and go through the process of applying for a doe permit if they wanted one the following year. To speak in support of this bill were a group of boys from Spruce Mountain Middle School. Three of them spoke about wanting this opportunity as a means to help get more kids hooked on hunting and being outdoors instead of sitting behind a screen (Amen!). They did an outstanding job as they read from their prepared statements. You could feel the entire audience appreciate the time and courage it took for them to get up and speak. When a committee member asked the boys if there were girls in their school and around their same age that hunted, a couple boys looked back at one of the adults in their party and replied “yes.” Personally, I wish she would have come with them and said a few words, but that is my own prejudice. The boys, all 12, were also asked if they had ever shot a deer. The two the answered said they had not.
It was great to hear those boys get up and speak and it is encouraging to have this generation be interested enough to come say their piece to the public, legislature and the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife committee. But, I think both of these bills should not pass. It is all a part of the process… if you can not shoot a doe, but you see one, you should 1.) know that there might be a buck behind her that you can shoot and 2.) sit and watch her. Appreciate the deer and try to learn their behaviors. Seeing a doe and not being able to shoot her is not the worst thing that could happen to a 10, 13 or 15 year old. I believe it comes back to who is teaching them to appreciate the animal that they are hunting.
The youth deer hunt starts one week before the season starts for Mainers. It is not a bad thing to teach this generation that they can not just walk out into the woods and shoot the first deer that they see because they get a special pass. Learning patience and understanding is a part of what makes deer hunting so great; “every time in the woods is an adventure and you never know what you will see” says my Dad. And we all agree that we want to build the deer herd back to where it once was. We need to protect the deer herd first and then worry about changing any existing laws. Although they might not like it now, that young generation will thank us in the future.