Utah joined a growing list of states removing barriers for youth hunters recently, as Gov. Jon Huntsman signed House Bill 328 into law.
The Utah Senate passed legislation that removes the minimum age for hunting upland game, small game and turkeys in the state. HB 328 passed by a margin of 20-7, and under the bill, hunters must be accompanied by an adult mentor at all times.
"This is a huge victory for mentored hunters in Utah," said Jon Leonard, National Wild Turkey Federation Utah state chapter president. "We are pleased young hunters will now have the opportunity to hunt with a mentor and without worry of a minimum age requirement."
Leonard represented the NWTF on the Wildlife and Habitat Legislative Coalition in Utah. The coalition is made up of representatives from sportsmen's groups, and was instrumental in getting the legislation passed through the committee.
"When you restrict the age at which a young person can enter the woods, you interfere with the family tradition of hunting and conservation," said Jon Leonard, National Wild Turkey Federation Utah state chapter president. "This law gives families another opportunity to strengthen their ties, while at the same time removing barriers for youth hunting."
The WHLC relied heavily on statistics from the Youth Hunting Report, which was written by Silvertip Productions, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and Southwick Associates Inc.
The report shows youth hunters are the safest hunters in the woods when accompanied by an adult. Of the 31 states that have no minimum age restrictions, the incident rates are .0483 per 1,000 hunters. The remaining states where the government sets minimum hunting age requirements had an incident rate nearly 10 percent higher at .0534 incidents per 1,000 hunters.
The findings of the report were peer reviewed for statistical validity by the Triad Research Group. The NWTF has led the charge in promoting youth hunting opportunities and has teamed up with USSA and National Shooting Sports Foundation to remove youth hunting barriers across the nation.
The research compelled the NWTF, USSA and NSSF to launch Families Afield, a program designed to work with hunters and elected officials about the negative impact of high age restrictions.
"Youth hunters are the future of conservation and the hunting tradition," said Rob Keck, CEO of the NWTF. "If we don't get these young people involved in hunting and conservation at an early age, our hunting traditions could suffer. By hooking them on hunting at an early age, we ensure the future of hunting and conservation remains strong."
While the Youth Hunting Report showed mentored hunters are safe hunters, it also showed hunter retention in Utah is on the decline. It also clearly shows regulations that limit youth participation have a negative impact on a state's ability to attract future hunters.
According to the Youth Hunting Report, Utah currently has 384,000 youth 6 to 15 years old, and a hunter retention rate of only 0.59, which means for every 100 hunters who leave hunting, only 59 take their place. Meanwhile, Mississippi has a comparable number of youth in the same age range - 438,000 to be exact - and a hunter retention rate of 1.01. Mississippi also has no minimum hunting age.