Wisconsin governor signs bill to cut minimum hunting age

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a number of hunting-related bills into law Saturday including one that eliminates the threshold age to hunt.

Classified as a “youth mentored hunting bill” by its sponsor, Assembly Bill 455 passed the legislature earlier this month by healthy margins and removes the requirement that a person is at least 10 years old to participate in a hunting mentorship program, leaving it up to parents to decide the budding sportsman’s minimum age.

Wisconsin Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, told lawmakers his legislation was about letting parents choose when their kids are ready to participate in hunting, not relying on a state mandate.

“I know my daughter would have been fine squirrel hunting with a .22 at age 6 had it been legal,” said Stafsholt. “Grouse hunting with a .410 shotgun a year or two later would have been warranted in my opinion.”

The change in state law advocated by Stafsholt eliminates the minimum age requirement for mentored hunts as well as the limit of one hunting device– such as a bow or gun– that a mentor and mentee can have between them while harvesting game. Under the new law, both can now carry a device, though it does bar mentors from using animal tags issued to the mentee.

While Stafsholt told lawmakers the change is in line with laws in place in at least 34 other states, Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland warned that the bill would let “a toddler, a two-year-old” carry a gun, posing a risk to others in the woods.

Some 600,000 hunters hit Wisconsin’s woods in search of game each year in a state with some 5.7 million acres of public land, contributing an estimated $1 billion per year to the state’s economy, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.Some 26,000 youth took part in mentored hunts in the state in 2016.

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 40 percent of the national population over 16 years old participated in outdoor activities in 2016, though the number of active hunters has been declining. This, in turn, sparked a response from the Trump administration to identify community programs that may be eligible for grants or could benefit from federal cooperation to help bring more people into the woods, with a special focus on engaging minorities, veterans, and youth.