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Best of Luck to All the New Youth Hunters

We still have a few issues with the provincial government over policies and decisions regarding our great outdoors – open pen aquaculture and the unsustainably high number of moose hunting licences issued each year uppermost amongst them – but as I’ve attempted to make a habit of doing my entire life, I give credit where it’s due. And the long-overdue lowering of the hunting age by the current administration, under Premier Dwight Ball and Forestry and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne, does indeed warrant such acknowledgment.

It is perhaps the best outdoor news we’ve heard since the Sunday hunting ban was finally lifted a dozen years ago.

Under supervision from a qualified mentor and after completing the required firearms safety and hunter education courses, youth in this province can now hunt small game at the age of 12 and big game once they reach 16 years of age.

Editor Gord Follett

Many had been hoping the new age limits would be 12 and 14, as it is across much of Canada, but we can certainly live with this. For now, at least.

Government has also announced an updated program for hunters with a disability, plus new – earlier – target dates for the big game draw. More on these further on in this editorial, but for now, back to the youth hunting (and trapping) legislation.

Having met Gerry Byrne for the first time last month and casually chatting with him for more than an hour, I became aware of his and his family’s direct involvement in the outdoors and outfitting, going back at least a couple of generations, and I was optimistic that this minister was going to do more than just talk about changing the age limit. (In fairness, I do believe former minister Steve Crocker had every intention this past summer of making this change, but legal issues with the Justice Department – among other things – delayed the process. Holding off on announcing these new regulations until publicly revealing improvements to the “persons with disabilities” rules, would “take some of the bite out of any negative reaction from those against ‘kids with guns’,” I was told by a source within the department.) Whatever the case, at least now we have it.

While Dwight Blackwood and I, through the Newfoundland Sportsman, have been advocating for this change many years, we are fully aware that the persistence of Barry Fordham of the Newfoundland Association of Hunters and Anglers (NAHA) has been a significant factor in keeping the issue “alive” during times when various administrations seemed determined to sweep it under the rug.

For years I’ve spoken with various ministers responsible for wildlife who clearly indicated they were not only “actively working on it,” but that it would be happening “soon.”

Well, it didn’t happen, much to the chagrin of our outdoors-minded youth and their parents.

Although the wheels had already been in motion this year to reduce the hunting age, we needed somebody to give this rig a good shove. Dwight Ball and Gerry Byrne are the ones who finally pushed it through. The fact that both are more than just a tad familiar with hunting, fishing and the outdoors in general obviously gave them a much better perspective on dealing with this issue.

Asked what the difference was this time in finally getting the legislation passed, Minister Byrne nodded towards the premier and said, “leadership.” They also acknowledged that Steve Crocker had done “the bulk of the leg work” on this with the premier.

As a result of this news, tens of thousands of young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can now legally and actively take part in one of our greatest outdoor activities – not that many of them hadn’t already been hunting with Dad since they were eight or nine, mind you. They’re gonna be absolutely ecstatic! For many, it’s like finally getting their driver’s licence, or at least a permit to drive on their very own. And we can all remember what a thrill that was.

“Music to their ears,” is how Premier Ball described it.

Benefits to the youth involved here are virtually endless, while the province and the outdoors in general will also reap the rewards.

With the hunting population in steady decline for the last number of years, we were literally running out of conservationists – those law-abiding, honest individuals who, just by their very presence, help curb poaching. And let us assure you, such illegal activity is alive and well throughout the province. But it could get worse – much worse if not for these “kids,” our new hunters.

Then, as the premier pointed out, there’s the “tremendous economic benefit” this influx of new hunters will bring to the province.

Hunting isn’t a cheap activity, I can assure you. As an individual, for example, I spend upwards of $1,500 per season on hunting paraphernalia, gas, food, licences, etc. If I were to venture a guess as to what we, as the Newfoundland Sportsman, contributes to the economy each year through hunting alone, we’d be looking at much, much more a year.

As with virtually everything in life, we need to be taught right from wrong at an early age. “Teach them early” is a common phrase, which certainly should apply to the proper handling of firearms, as well as hunting ethics. Needless to say, this is where the mentors come in. It’s a major responsibility for which they will be held accountable.

No doubt there will be critics of this move to lower the hunting age, and I do not dismiss their concerns outright.

Could there be accidents involving youth and firearms?

Quite possibly. Just as there are accidents involving teenagers and motor vehicles. But again, this is where those early lessons come into play.

The program for hunters with a disability has been updated to provide more flexibility for participants, with the old requirement for a designated hunter to remain “in line of sight of the person with a disability,” now amended to require him or her to remain within 800 metres OR line of sight, whichever is greater, of the person with a disability. In other words, if there’s a small hill or patch of trees between the two, the designated hunter can still harvest the animal as long as they are no more than 800 metres apart.

The province will also be shifting the timeline for the big game draw process for the 2018-19 season. Applications will be mailed out Feb. 19, 2018, with March 30 set as the application deadline. Big game draw results will be released on May 1, much earlier than in previous years.

So there you have it – good news and more good news for the hunting community of Newfoundland and Labrador. Refreshing indeed. I’ll end with a quote from Tyrone Buckle, one of many avid outdoorsmen who is passing his knowledge and passion for the outdoors along to his two sons, as his own father did for him: “I have a hunting heritage. My love of hunting and the skills I possess were handed down to me by my father, and to him through his father.

“My oldest son Jesse has been hunting with us since he was three years old… this announcement now gives him the ability to take all the knowledge he has gained and put it to practical use. But more importantly, it makes him a full-fledged member of a very special group in my eyes. He will be a Newfoundland and Labrador hunter. The passion his grandfather and I have passed on to him for wildlife, safety and conservation will be nearly impossible to extinguish once he has the opportunity to legally and ethically harvest or attempt to harvest his first animal…

“Thank you to all involved in getting this passed, and best of luck to all the new youth hunters. Have respect for your quarry, follow the regulations and be safe.”