Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kids and hunting - where to draw the line?

When a 14-year-old boy in Washington state recently mistook a hiker for a bear, took aim, and fatally shot her, there was surprisingly little bitterness toward the boy, despite his tragic error in judgment.

But eleven days have passed now, and the repercussions are becoming clear: Prosecutors have announced they'll file first-degree manslaughter charges against the boy, who appears to have violated one of the most important rules of hunting - identify what you're shooting at before you pull the trigger.

And some officials at Washington Fish & Wildlife have announced they want to reinstitute age requirements for hunters (click here for the full story).

This is one of those rare times that I'm honestly not sure what I think about an issue.

As a rule, I hate knee-jerk reactions to accidents. One person makes a mistake, and legislative or regulatory bodies figure some sort of ban will ameliorate the public's outrage or concern. But the problem is that no ban can ever fully eliminate risk, and bans predominantly restrict people who weren't doing anything wrong to begin with.

But ... children are more prone to making mistakes because they are young and learning, and a mistake in hunting can be - as it was in this case - irreversible. So doesn't it make sense to place more restrictions on children in hunting, just as we restrict children in driving?

But ... haven't adults made mistakes like this as well? Lord, you always hear about turkey hunters shooting at movement and sound that turns out to be another turkey hunter doing some really good calling.

So, was this a mistake of youth, which you can address with age requirements? Or was it a mistake of stupidity, which infects people of all ages?

Should we cut off more youth from hunting? Or is there anything we can do to improve hunter safety training, which has already tremendously reduced hunting accidents? Or do we accept that no matter how careful we are, people will make fatal mistakes - in hunting, just the same as in driving?

I don't know the answer. But regardless of the law, I think decisions about when a child is ready to hunt should be made by a (hopefully intelligent) parent who is evaluating whether the child is mature enough to handle the responsibility. Terry Scoville over at the Women's Hunting Journal is exploring the same question. Some kids are careless and obviously shouldn't have guns; others are so diligent that you know they're going to be the smartest and most careful hunters out there. But there's no way to legislate that decision-making process, is there?

All I know for sure is that this shooting and the ensuing debate come at a critical time.

All over the country, hunting groups are pushing states to make it easier for kids to hunt, and for good reason: If you don't catch the hunting bug with your family as a kid, you may never start as an adult, and that means the number of hunters will continue to decline.

That's a problem, because hunting is a heritage well worth preserving, and not just to justify our existence or ensure our political clout. Hunting is important because it connects us to our food and nature in ways that nothing else can. And, personally, I think this country needs to be a lot more in tune with our food supply, because removing ourself from the process of food production and entrusting it to industrial geniuses has done nothing but make us fat and sick.

So, dear readers, what do you think? What's the answer? As a new hunter who grew up in a non-hunting family, I don't have one, so I'm looking to the experienced hunters for your wisdom on this matter.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Tom Sorenson said...

I have no wisdom on this account - but I wonder if an age limit might not be a bad idea. At least make them hunt with someone over 20 yrs. old until they are 14. 14 is kinda old enough to know, though. Maybe it should have something to do with if you're under the age of 16, you must hunt with an adult unless you've hunted with an adult over 21 for more than 3 years? That's an impossible law to enforce - see, I'm bad at this! I'll shut up now and wait for smart people to hop on here and give their opinions.

Holly Heyser said...

Tom, I have the problem - everything I can think of is complex. I'd let 'em hunt earlier, but definitely with adult supervision, and I might even require an adult who takes a kid out to meet a higher standard of hunter safety training and testing.

But that's just me trying to legislate "smart."

The Hunter's Wife said...

I would have to believe this was an unfortunate accident and we hear about these types of stories all the time. Whether they are adults or children. Maybe more safety training classes need to be enforced.

Holly Heyser said...

Hunter safety has been huge, and it probably could be better. This kid passed it when he was 9 years old - perhaps kids should have to get recertified from time to time?

I know CPR certification doesn't last forever.

But I agree with Jody that this just could've been a freak accident. Just the other day here in California, a veteran shooter accidentally shot and killed a friend while they were all sitting around talking after a day at the shooting range, and he was by all accounts the safest guy anyone knew. Sometimes even the smartest and most careful people slip.

Anonymous said...

I wrote about this very subject in my last Safety Friday post, and part of the question I asked was who is responsible? I don't think there's an easy answer to that. I haven't read anywhere if the woman who was hiking was wearing anything that would identify her as a human, like a blaze orange vest or something. Certainly the boy shouldn't have taken a shot he wasn't certain about. I also wonder if people who hiked that trail were notified that hunters might be near by. There's a lot of places to point the finger if that's what you want to do.

I'm not sure the right solution is to pass legislation that keeps kids from hunting. I think maybe making them take a refresher course on hunting safety is a good idea. I'm not really sure what the solution to this problem is. It seems to me like it might be more a problem of carelessness and stupidity and, as you said, you can't legislate those out of existance.

Native said...

You hit the nail squarely upon its hard little head!

Hunting should be a family event and time for parents to bond with their children in natures finest offerings.

My questions would be where were this childs parents "or Parent" when this tragic event occurred?
Why were they allowing this child to be unsupervised while handling a firearm?
Not the kind of things which I, as a responsible parent would have allowed in the first place.

A 14 year old must have an adult with them while driving!.......

Holly Heyser said...

Unfortunately, this 14-year-old had only his 16-year-old brother with him. But I think you're right - the parent(s)' influence has to be strong and steady. Doing the right thing has got to be so deeply ingrained that a kid doesn't even have to think about it.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

It's not the age that matters, many older hunters mistake humans or other animals for the game they seek. Many times it's just field inexperience on what they are looking at. The drive to kill something to prove they are worthy hunters also is a factor some times.

Another ingredient to the disaster soup is our eyes are easily fooled. Several times, what I thought was an animal I was after turned out to be a human wearing the wrong color and moving like an animal would be expected to. One guy wearing camo with blue gloves on looked just like a turkey's head bobbing back and forth as he walked down a thicket with his hands swinging to and fro.

Here's another tragedy waiting to happen, a proud pop gives a kid way too big a shotgun that knocks him on his kester. The sad part is all the viewers who think it's "cute" and he's a "tough kid". You wanna stand near this kid when he handles a shotgun? Not me.

Jon Roth said...

Holly, what an interesting question. I know for myself, I was in the field with my trusty 20 gauge at age 10. But my father was right at my side and spent many days and nights discussing safety before and after I took my hunter safety and long before I entered the field. I think the fatal flaw here was allowing the 16 year old to host the 14 year old. Had a more experienced adult been with him I would hope (but certainly no guarantee) that they would have intervened. Just a shame...

Native said...

Belated congrats on the picture which you posted with the two adults and one child all dressed in camo where the red line go's through it and the caption reads: You Must Be This Tall.

That is an ingenious picture and should be circulated with lots of frequency as it really is worth a thousand words.

Native said...

Sorry about "hoggin'" your space Holly but, I just thought of a great movie and a really great and related to the topic, scene in the movie.

Jimmy Stewart in: Shenandoah, I think that is how it is spelled.

The scene where the very young Union soldier is guarding the bridge and Stewart finally has retrieved his boys and is crossing the bridge on horseback and headed home.
The young soldier is startled awake and accidentally shoots and kills one of Stewart.s sons.
A very powerful and moving scene.

Blessed said...

This truly is a difficult question to answer. I certainly don't want further restrictions that wouldn't allow a 14 year old to hunt - that is certainly old enough to be out in the field hunting - but I really do think part of the issue in this case is that the 14 year old was supervised by a 16 year old.

There isn't an easy answer - especially without knowing the full story - what was the hiker doing, what was the area they were hunting like...

I like the idea of making kids take the hunting safety course over again - maybe every two or three years until they have passed it a few times, I'll have to think about that - a child matures so much between 9 and 14 that I would think that if he had taken the class again he might have picked up on something that he didn't get or forgot the first time. I'll have to think about that idea some more.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I think the main focus of this particular topic is the lack of parental supervision.

I think kids should be allowed to hunt at whatever age, but I also think, that up to a certain age, adult supervision should be required while they are in the field.

I know all the focus has been on the young hunters of America after this incident, but this can happen to anybody at any age.

I would be for the idea of having kids periodically required to take hunters safety again, or possibly pass a hunters safety test every couple years.

There are some good ideas coming from this post.

Langdon Cook said...

This happened in my state, in an area where we like to hike/forage. I can't help but think we haven't gotten to the bottom of it. The hiker was on a marked trail in the middle of summer (who knew it was even bear season right now?). Youth was a factor, and you have to think stupidity too. But I wonder about these kids and their guardians...I wonder a lot.

Holly Heyser said...

Agreed. I don't have kids so I'm not an authority, but I'm not sure I'd let my 14- and 16-year-old kids go out bear hunting alone.

Isn't that the answer to almost everything to do with kids - strong parental guidance, supervision and support?

And thanks, Native, re the photo up top. My technical skills aren't great, but I was proud of the concept :-).

ironman said...

everyone seems to agree,the answer is parental supervision. As a hunter who has raised a hunter, I completely agree. I spent the whole first season with my son not even carrying a gun. that way I could be sure the focus was on him. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make to insure that he got the attention he needed to be safe, and that he would have as much fun as possible,(he was 13).The next season I carried a gun but let him shoot first. Again so I could supervise his shots. By the third season, I didn't need to give him a head start anymore he was already beating me to the shot. Why not let kids of any age hunt, but require that the accompanying ADULT be unarmed if the child is below a certain age. I like 14.this would better insure that our future generation of hunters are receiving the training they need,and make it a lot more fun for the kids thus improving the chances that they will become hunters for life.

Holly Heyser said...

I like that!

Anonymous said...

I'm opposed to an outright age limit, but I do like the "apprenticeship" approach, similar to what New York has done... although I think they're still too restrictive with a 14-year old age requirement.

Will it prevent incidents like this one? Probably not. Guns are deadly tools, and the consequences of a brief lapse in judgement are always permanent and often fatal... same as automobiles and chainsaws. You can't legislate common sense and judgement.

Bottom line, the majority of shooting incidents, particularly mistaken identity, involve adult shooters. Maybe that's simply due to the fact that there are more adult hunters than kids in the field, but personally, I think it's just due to the fact that too many hunters of all ages don't take the time to consider their shot choices, or the repercussions of an error.

It's a sad story. I don't see where charging the kid with manslaughter serves justice, but I don't know what else I'd suggest. Is punitive action necessary in a case like this?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... you can bet some legislator is gonna leverage some kind of new restrictions out of this situation. Hope it's something that at least makes sense.

Jesses Hunting And Outdoors said...

There was a video I posted last year put out by the Maine F&G about a buddy who shot his friend while deer hunting. It is the most powerful video I've seen on hunting safety and how you can't call that bullet back once you pull the trigger. It left everyone I know in tears at the end. Many commented that EVERY hunter should watch this video before going out. The buddy took a shot at last light at something moving in the bushes and killed his friend.

I tried to find the video again but no luck. It was on MyOutdoorTV if I recall last fall or this spring. Ayybody remember the video and know where it's at? The 2 friends were in their early 20s and the hunter that was killed was married.