New hunting laws take effect Aug. 1
Children under 12 years old may soon be packing heat in Utah’s forests because of legislation passed this year by the Utah Legislature.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed the bill that on Aug. 1 does away with a law that allows only kids 12 years old and older to hunt small game and wild turkey in Utah.
"We’re excited about this law," said Lenny Rees, hunter education coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "It gives young people a chance to get outdoors with their parents and experience that joy of hunting at an early age."
Summit County’s delegation on Utah’s Capitol Hill supported removing the age requirement by voting for House Bill 328, sponsored by Rep. Curt Oda, a Republican from Clearfield.
The Legislature did not pass House Bill 329, however, which lowered the minimum age to hunt big game, like deer and elk, from 14 to 12 years old.
According to Rees, a survey of 11 western states showed that Utah and Montana impose the strictest regulations on when people can begin to hunt.
"Eight of the states do not have a minimum age requirement, and Idaho allows young people to hunt at the age of 10," said Rees in a DWR press release.
Rees claimed, in seven states that have no minimum age requirement, he found only one accident that involved a hunter under the age of 12 during the past five years.
"Other states have found that younger hunters are safe hunters," Rees added.
Rep. Ross Romero a Democrat, who represents portions of the Snyderville Basin, agreed.
"Parents are very involved in the hunting activity of their children and parents are best able to discern when a child is of appropriate age and maturity to be participating in small-game hunting," Romero said during a telephone interview Thursday. "The anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest that there hadn’t been significant harm or injury from younger hunters."
Hunters under the age of 12 must be accompanied by adults in the woods and complete the state’s hunter-education course before licenses can be purchased.
"These young hunters must pass all of the same requirements that hunters older than them must also pass," Rees said.
According to Rees, "accompanied means the adult has to be close enough to the young hunter that they can talk with them without the use of electronic means."
"For example, the young hunter cannot be so far away that the adult needs a walkie-talkie to communicate with him or her," he said, adding that parents will be responsible for determining whether their children are mature enough to hunt.
Romero said, "it was couched in terms of being able to experience a, family, or a rite of passage opportunity."
"Oh my God, I didn’t know anything about it," Mountain Trails Foundation Executive Director Carol Potter said. "It’s kind of scary for me, but I’m not a gun person."
Lots of trails in western Summit County cross private land where hunting is often allowed, she said.
"When it’s hunting season, be smart, because people can hunt on private land," Potter added.
Potter says she might notify trail users of the new law by posting the information on the Mountain Trails Web site.
"There are lots and lots of users, so we’ve got to balance," Potter said.
Hunters in Summit County often search for game in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
"Certainly there is a safety concern, but it’s really more of an issue of respect at all ages," said Cathy Kahlow, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service’s Kamas Ranger District. "If children have guns to shoot if they’re not taught safe gun-use principles, then it’s a problem."
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