If you ask me, 14 is too young. But that appears to be the age we may settle on in allowing young hunters in Washington to hunt without adult supervision.
Iíd argue for 16 and this, I can assure you, will start a fairly good discussion when a number of my friends read this.
Thatís as it should be because from points and counter points, arguments and rebuttals, there might come a responsible and reasonable law that would help in preventing future tragedies
Are there boys and girls younger than 16 who could be trusted to hunt without adult supervision?
No doubt about it because, in any age group, there are individuals who are more mature, capable, cautious and careful than others.
But you never manage to the exception. You manage to the rule. And, in my experience, the rule tends to be that boys and girls under the age of 16 should hunt under adult supervision.
We allow teenagers to drive cars, but not before theyíve reached a certain age. We allow young men and women to vote, but not before theyíve reached a certain age. We allow young men and women to drink but, again, not before theyíve reached a certain age.
We do this because, from hard experience weíve learned that to do otherwise invites trouble and all of its ugly friends to mingle freely among us.
Note that nowhere am I saying that 14-year-olds are inherently dangerous or that they would knowingly set out to do things that might harm themselves or others.
Itís just that the part of their brain that says: ďWhoa there, remember what nearly happened the last time you tried something like this?Ē hasnít been turned on yet because this might be the first time theyíre trying something that could have deadly consequences.
I would also offer that thereís a similar reason which explains why insurance rates are sky high for young drivers. Same kids. Same ages. Same switch in the brain not quite thrown yet.
Most of you know that Iím a hunter. Iíve been hunting for more than 30 years and you can bet that I still make mistakes.
Mostly, though, my mistakes have been of the ego-bruising variety. However, all of those ďbruisesĒ have combined to make me extremely careful because I know what can come of an ill-considered action. Most 14-year-olds havenít had the time to gather those bruises and need someone who has to watch over them for a while.
For the past nine years, Iíve also been a Hunter Education instructor and I cringe every time I see a seven or eight-year-old signed up for our class.
I cringe because, on the one hand, I know that most will not pass. The subject matter being taught is often beyond them and itís a lot to ask of a kid that age to sit through 5 nights of instruction (3 hours per night) and pass both a written and a skills test at the end of it all.
Most often, what we end up with is a youngster in tears who is thoroughly embarrassed and who doesnít want to go through it all again.
Whatís troubled me more, though, are the occasions wherein an 8-year-old manages to pass the course. When that happens, under current law, they can legally go off (though most parents would never allow it) and hunt alone.
Scary stuff that and it begs a separate discussion on a minimum age to be allowed to hunt at all. I favor 12, but I have a good friend whoís an extremely cautious and conscientious hunter who argues (with good and valid points) that Iím being too restrictive.
Still, I donít understand why the legislature didnít catch the error when the age restriction to hunt alone was dropped back in 1994.
I donít understand why they didnít go back and fix it then, but Iím glad that theyíre trying to do it now.
As I said, I think that the minimum age when someone can hunt without adult supervision will likely be set at 14 and thatís far better than what we have now which is nothing. That is, itís better until you remember that it was a 14-year-old who brought this situation to our attention by mistaking a hiker for a bear.
And that one simple fact is what keeps me hoping for those extra two years.