Case: Who should decide when kids can start hunting?

Contributed photo / When should kids be allowed to start hunting? Some states have minimum age requirements while others don't, and "Guns & Cornbread" columnist Larry Case has some thoughts on that.
Contributed photo / When should kids be allowed to start hunting? Some states have minimum age requirements while others don't, and "Guns & Cornbread" columnist Larry Case has some thoughts on that.

In the fall of 1963, I was 10 years old, and on a warm October afternoon, I followed my dad down a path as we quietly snuck into an area to some hickory trees he knew about.

I can remember watching in awe later that evening as he hammered a couple squirrels with his old Ithaca Model 37 16-gauge pump gun. Then a grey bushytail jumped onto a beech snag in front of us, and he told me to take the shot. I had a Model 37 as well, but mine was a Winchester single-barrel .410. (Boy, do I wish I still had that gun.) I looked up and saw the squirrel scramble out on a limb over our heads.

"Shoot at his head," Dad said.

I did, and the rest is history.

(READ MORE: Remember Dad's role in the great outdoors)

Get ready for another topic/discussion/sermon that could have you arguing, fighting or hopefully just having a good dialog around the water cooler at work, in a chair at the barber shop or maybe while gathered around the counter at your local gun shop.

Here it is: How old should kids be to start taking them hunting?

We don't seem to have much controversy about when we start them fishing, and that's OK, as we don't usually deal with firearms in the fishing world. Firearms safety is a big part of when we will actually let a youngster carry a gun in the field.

Most of us in the boomer age group didn't even think about this when we started down the hunting trail. We went with Dad, Granddad or Uncle Bill every time they allowed us to join them. On our first trips, we often tagged along without packing a firearm, maybe carrying a trusty Daisy BB gun. We followed along, did what we were told, stayed quiet, tried not to step on too many sticks — and loved every minute of it. We knew too many transgressions in the noise-making and twig-breaking department could result in not getting to go the next time.

(READ MORE: Hunting and fishing memories keep us heading back outdoors)

The issue here is what age young hunters should be able to go hunting and actively participate, as in carrying and shooting a firearm and taking game in the field. The different states are more or less all over the map on this, as many are not the same when it comes to the law and regulations governing what young hunters can do in the field.

To try to simplify things for our discussion, however, we can focus on the fact that most of the states, in general, fall into two groups.

The first allows youngsters of any age (no minimum) to be engaged in the hunt as long as they are accompanied by a licensed adult. So if the parent thinks their child is ready and capable to shoot a squirrel, a deer or a turkey, then they are free to do so. Most of these states also say by the age of 15 or 16 (in Tennessee the age is 13), the young hunter must have a hunting license and can then hunt alone if they take a hunter education course.

In general, in my not so humble opinion, this is what I think the young hunter situation should be. As a parent, I want to be able to say when I can take my young hunter to the field, under the supervision of a parent or other adult the parent deems appropriate for this task.

On the other side of this coin are the states that have laws mandating a minimum age (usually in the 10-12 range) at which young hunters can start, regardless of what their parents may think about it.

Many of you know that I spent 36 years of my life as a DNR conservation officer, enforcing laws dealing with wildlife and hunting regulations. Most of the time I don't argue or disagree with various laws in this regard, but on this one, I am certainly in the camp that says a parent should be the one to choose at what age you take your child afield to start hunting.

Just so we are clear, let's state that I am certainly all for hunter education requirements at a certain age — that is a good thing. Also, many states now have special youth days for deer, turkeys and even squirrels, and if a state wants to set a minimum age for these special hunts, then I really don't have a big problem with that either.

What I don't want is the state telling a parent at what age they can take a kid out for general hunting.

Some children are ready to go at 5 or 6 years old, some may need to wait a little longer. The parent is the best judge for this, not the state.

As we always say at the Guns & Cornbread website: "Keep your guns clean, your knife sharp, and take a kid hunting!"

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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