By Bill Geer
SB 197 allows 9 year old kids to hunt so long as they have a mentor who is 21 years old or older who is close enough to be able to yell at them. This same bill has been brought forward by national interests who don’t even work in Montana for the last few sessions. While this bill might seem like a good idea, wrapped up in the traditions of our forefathers, but it completely disregards the entire reason the state of Montana instituted Hunter Education. It also shows a huge problem with the hunting culture of today: It focuses more on killing animals than of the real lessons to be learned while in the field. Hunting isn’t just about killing an animal. It’s about connecting with the natural world and understanding the movements and habits of the game we pursue. It’s about understanding the hunter’s role in managing wildlife and the conservation of our natural resources.
When I was 11, in 1959, my mother wanted me to go cottontail hunting with my uncle and his sons, that being the cherished entry to manhood in my family. My parents bought me a .22 rifle and an old bolt-action 12-gauge, but required that I first complete hunter education training before starting my adventure afield. That was one of the smartest things they ever did for me.
My folks understood that hunter education training tempers the unrestrained excitement of youth with guns. My cousins I was to hunt with, while sensible, were kids themselves and in no way capable of being mentors with adult sensibility.
Well, wouldn’t you know an accident occurred when an excited cousin shot his 16–gauge at a cottontail in the river bottom without really paying attention to the brush behind the bunny, the brush hiding my uncle on the other side? The pellets that missed the cottontail and penetrated the brush surgically took off the right side of my uncle’s eyeglasses – while he was wearing them. Under SB 197, my excitable, 21 year old cousin would be considered a mentor.
We all have stories like that. That’s why bills like SB 197 are bad. The real world excitement of hunting needs to be tempered by the cooler heads that help us realize that the decisions we make in the field have far greater implications than whether or not the animal in our crosshairs is worth taking.
By the grace of God my uncle was not hurt, but all hell broke loose right there on the river bottom when he reminded us kids what hunter education was all about-- good judgment and safe shooting, the kind of things most 9-year olds need training to understand.
What on earth were our Senators thinking? While the bill has been amended to make it less egregious (at first, there was no minimum age on the hunter apprentice and the sponsor only had to be 18), it is still a bad idea wrapped up in the banner of hunter opportunity.
The potential for abuse is very high with this bill. Hunter’s Ed produces ethical, sharp, well educated hunter-conservationists. Many hunter education instructors testified against this bill. So did many sportsmen’s organizations. Kudos to them for recognizing that the thrill of hunting is not in the kill, but in the ethical ability to do things the right way, even when no-one is looking. SB 197 changes that ethic and places the kill above the ethics. While that might seem like a small change, it really is a large one.
As hunters, we have a duty to not only ethically harvest wildlife in the most humane possible, we have a duty to conserve that species and it’s habitat. By allowing the harvest to become the ultimate prize in the hunting experience, we remove the ethical standards taught to us all during Hunter Education.