Tim Kobasic column: Time to end September deer hunt for youth?

As is typical this time of year, when fall hunting quotas are being determined, the suggestions of how to be a bit more conservative on deer harvest are coming in. Most have been aired on an annual basis and often meet with debate putting one user group against another.

To start off, questions are always raised when it comes to the combination license. This program is overlapping in seasonal use and allows a hunter to take up to two bucks throughout the year in archery and/or firearm seasons. The UP tags are restricted in that one buck must have antlers with at least three points on one side and the other at least four points on one side. This rule was put into effect in 2008 when hunter prior descretion permitted any buck on one tag and restricted on the second. The reported deer taken in 2016 indicates that less than 1 percent of combination license holders utilized the second tag. If they took a buck during archery season, they still had the opportunity to firearm hunt but again were restricted. The combined information merging the eastern and western UP with data via the Deer Camp indicates that persons taking a second buck has been less than or equal to 2 percent since 2001. The recreational opportunity is precious to most hunters who enjoy both hunt periods.

Some hunters carrying concern about over-harvest have suggested further restricting licenses to a one buck per hunter period! That means on deer per year per hunter. If you shoot one during archery season, you’re done for the year. There has also been suggestion to separate the seasons with one license each, specific for the time period. What adds to such consideration here is that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Wildlife Division is a fee driven business. If less licenses are sold, they’ll take a hit on revenue which could be very damaging to operations.

Another contention is the fall youth hunt.

The Liberty-Youth Hunt takes place for two days every year in September. Youngsters less than 17 years of age are permitted to participate and are not restricted on take even if they have a combination license. Some adult hunters who do not participate in the program think it is not necessary and that the timing of the hunt puts bucks at a clear disadvantage. Some also believe that in many instances the adult is actually shooting the deer which is certainly contrary to the season intent. There have also been additions to the options for youth to hunt that go beyond the two day season.

The Michigan Legislature amended the age that kids can hunt, lowering small game from 12 to 10 and big game from 14 to 12. A few years later, based on the initiative of members from the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, they also added mentor hunting which allows the parent to determine at what age a youngster can begin hunting. Participation is restricted to private land only and an adult must be in immediate control of the hunter. The program also waves the immediate requirement to obtain a hunter safety certificate. Starting at age 10, new hunters can still get by without certification for two more years under the Apprentice Hunter Program, which follows the same format as the mentored hunt. Getting kids involved with conservation means a lot more than killing game. Although the youth hunt and age amendments are integral tools used for recruitment, it is very important that the adult hunters need to have better focus on teaching youth about the fundamentals of wildlife and habitat, the ethics and traditions as well as all safety concerns related to hunting.

According to a report issued February 2, 2017 by the MDNR, “Passing on the skills and knowledge of the hunting tradition from adults to youth has been a meaningful and vitally important part of our heritage in Michigan.”

Some hunters who may not differ in the opinion that it’s time to back off on the special youth hunt deer season are from the Lower Peninsula. They do feel getting kids involved with all aspects of hunting are important and to enhance participation have come up with an alternative program.

Years ago members of the Belding Sportsmen’s Club, near the Flat River State Game Area which encompasses 11,000 acres in Ionia and Montcalm counties, teamed up with MDNR staff at Flat River to start an annual youth rabbit hunt. That went over pretty good until there was a cyclical drop in the rabbit population. Three years ago the Michigan Squirrel Dog Association joined up to make it a general small game hunt. The program now continues to grow in popularity every year. The Mid-Michigan United Sportsmen’s Association (MMUSA) consortium of sporting/conservation groups has been donating manpower, prizes and lunch to the annual hunt and plans to continue to do so in the future.

The program is all volunteer and kicks off with a breakfast at the club on the day of the hunt. Kids are mentored the same as they would be on the deer youth hunt but are expected to work the woods with a mentor and just like most hunting, don’t always come in with game. It is designed as a true outdoors adventure that teaches kids that learning is fun and fellowship with adults is wonderful.

According to Bill Bird, a 72 year-old retiree and program volunteer, “We didn’t have any deer (at that age) and we transitioned into deer hunting. Today the kids start in reverse of that!”

With all the conservation organizations we have in the UP, those who are advocates of removing the annual youth deer hunt should perhaps step up and provide a choice like this as a viable alternative.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.