Mentor change may be most important
HARRISBURG — Just the thought or mention of deer in Pennsylvania is guaranteed to get the juices of sportsmen flowing. So, as expected, the news coming out of January’s quarterly meeting of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s board of game commissioners that a Saturday opener for the firearms deer season is in place got the most attention.
On the back burner, however, was a matter that has finally been brought to a boil after simmering for far too long. At that same meeting the commission gave final approval to a measure that bridges the mentored youth and mentored adult hunting programs — which in the long run and overall total importance to the future of hunting is more important than the long hoped-for Saturday opener of the firearms deer season.
Seeing the importance of introducing hunting to those age 17 and older who had never participated in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program or taken the Hunter-Trapper Education Course and held a Junior License, a bill was introduced under the bipartisan sponsorship of state Rep. Neal Goodman (D-Mahanoy City) and Keith Gillespie (R-York), who chairs the House Game and Fisheries Committee. A Marine Corps veteran, Goodman is a staunch supporter of youth participation in sports from the playing field to the great outdoors.
Goodman, who is an avid hunter and staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and Gillespie have long been concerned that the mentored hunting programs bypassed people 12-17 years old, which they said was an important demographic to reach, and had introduced bills to address that.
Their bills passed the state House unanimously during past legislative sessions, but previously died in the Senate.
“I’m pleased with the action by the Board of Game Commissioners,” Goodman said. “Introducing more young people — as well as adults — to the sport we love will lead many of them to become hunters and continue this great Pennsylvania tradition.”
Under the new regulation, which will take effect after being reviewed and advertised, unlicensed youngsters between the ages of 12-17 may participate in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program if not participating previously. A three-year maximum of continuous participation will apply to all mentored hunters ages 12 or older, and after three years in the program they will be required to get a license.
There are no regulation changes for those younger than the age of 12 who participate in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program. Those who have participated for at least three years in the program will be required to successfully pass the Hunter-Trapper Education Course and purchase a Junior License.
Upon reaching the age of 17 youngsters are eligible to participate in the Mentored Adult Hunting Program for a maximum of three years — including years participating the Mentored Youth Hunting Program — before being required to pass the Hunter-Trapper Education Course and purchase an Adult License. Both mentored programs are designed to increase hunter recruitment by providing an opportunity to experience hunting without the requirement to obtain a license.
Those in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program younger than 12 years old are required to pay $2.90 for a resident permit, and those between the ages of 12-17 are required to pay $6.90 for their permits. Permits for nonresident mentored youth between the ages of 12-17 will cost $41.90, and permits for mentored adult hunters will continue to cost $20.90 for residents and $101.90 for nonresidents.
Mentored youth may hunt only squirrels, rabbits, doves, woodchucks, coyotes, deer and turkeys, and the mentor and mentored youth may possess only one sporting arm between them and it must be carried by the mentor at all times while moving. Mentored youth younger than the age of 7 do not receive their own big game tags, and their adult mentors must possess a valid tag when hunting deer or turkeys and transfer the tag to the mentored youth.
Mentored adults may hunt only squirrels, ruffed grouse, rabbits, pheasants with a required pheasant permit, bobwhite quail, hares, porcupines, woodchucks, crows, coyotes, antlerless deer and turkeys. Mentored adults receive only a spring turkey tag, and in order to take an antlerless deer or fall turkey must use the tags of their mentor.
“From valuable time spent outdoors to the value of responsibility, hunting teaches so many lessons that carry over into other facets of life,” Gillespie said. “I’m glad to see the commissioners act as they did in recognizing the investment we are making by exposing more of our youth to the sport we as adults love.”
While the mentored programs are viewed as important recruitment tools, they are not intended as a substitute for getting a hunting license. Permits under the new framework are expected to be available when 2019-20 hunting licenses go on sale for the beginning of the hunting year, July 1.
Doyle Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.