County mulling lower hunting age

This state Department on Environmental Conservation photo shows 14-year-old Ian Mikulicic with a deer taken in 2014. Lawmakers are considering lowering the age of hunting with a firearm from 14 to 12.

OSWEGO — Twelve-year-old hunters could soon be permitted to pursue deer with a firearm in Oswego County, as county lawmakers consider opting into a state pilot program that would lower the age from 14 to 12.

State lawmakers earlier this year adopted a temporary program that runs through 2023 that, if approved by counties, allows for 12- and 13-year-olds to hunt deer in season with a rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader or crossbow with a supervised adult who has at least three years of hunting experience. The Oswego County Legislature is considering a proposal to opt into the pilot program, and officials said the measure is expected to pass with overwhelming support.

The county Legislature is holding a public hearing on the proposal tonight at 7 p.m. at the county Legislative Office Building in Oswego.

Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, said the proposal to lower the hunting age provides an opportunity for young people to get involved in the sport, and noted under current state and local law, 12- and 13-year-olds can already hunt small game with firearms.

“This is an opportunity for personal responsibility and to teach kids responsibility,” Weatherup said, adding hunting is also an important part of the Oswego County and upstate New York way of life. “What it does is starts kids on a path of sportsmanship, and firearm safety is part of that.”

Weatherup noted lowering the hunting age is a statewide effort and said the measure is likely to pass in virtually every upstate New York county. He also pointed out young hunters are still required to complete hunter safety courses, follow state and local laws and regulations, and be supervised by an adult.

If approved by the county, a supervising adult must at all times maintain physical control over the youth hunter, according to the DEC. Participating hunters, both adult and youth, would be required to wear fluorescent orange or pink clothing and remain at ground level.

The pilot program does not authorize 12- and 13-year-old hunters to participate in black bear hunting. Under current state and local law, young hunters ages 12 and 13 can hunt big game using archery equipment in addition to hunting small game with firearms.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in an April letter asked counties to consider approving the lowered hunting age, calling it “an exciting new opportunity” that would promote hunting and help curb deer populations in the state.

“Deer hunting is a valued tradition for many upstate families, providing quality food to New Yorkers and reducing the negative impacts of overabundant deer populations on agriculture, forests and communities,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Expanding youth hunting opportunities to assist with deer management and cultivating a new generation of hunters is a top priority for DEC.”

Temporarily lowering the hunting age was approved as part of the state budget process, and is part of the state’s deer management plan, which aims to control deer populations to reduce the negative impacts caused by the animals.

DEC officials said if not properly managed, deer numbers can increase dramatically and cause issues for people and reduce the quality of habitat for deer and other wildlife. According to DEC, deer can cause problems for farmers, homeowners and foresters, in addition to becoming road hazards.

In related news, the DEC released a final deer management document Wednesday and is accepting public comment on the plan until Aug. 8. According to the DEC, the plan outlines strategies to manage deer populations and seeks to protect the state’s deer population from the devastating potential of chronic wasting disease.

The state’s Deer Management Plan is available on the DEC website, and includes population objectives, harvest quotas and other information. Officials said major elements of the plan include the establishment of desired deer populations for regions of the state, monitoring deer populations for disease and taking action to reduce disease risk, providing additional hunting opportunity and encouraging hunters to use non-lead ammunition.

The DEC proposed a number of updated regulations, including establishing a nine-day season for antlerless deer starting the second Saturday in September in certain areas and extending the legal hunting hours for deer and bear to start 30 minutes before meteorological sunrise and end 30 minutes after sunset.

Another proposal aims to increase hunter safety by requiring all hunters pursuing deer or bear with a firearm, or anyone accompanying them, to wear a solid or patterned fluorescent orange or pink hat, vest or jacket.

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