MADISON, Wis. -- Children age 9 -- and much younger if parents choose -- will be able to deer hunt with an adult Saturday for the first time in Wisconsin, under a newly signed state law.
On Saturday, Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure to allow children younger than 10 to hunt if they are accompanied by an adult mentor who stays within arm's length of their charge. Licenses for these young hunters went on sale Monday.
State Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) said when he took his 8-year-old daughter hunting, he had to do it in Michigan because she wasn't old enough to legally hunt in Wisconsin at that time. Kleefisch, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, said parents should be able to decide when their children are ready.
"It's not government's job to tell parents" that, said Kleefisch, as he proudly showed off hunting photos of his daughters, who are now 11 and 14.
The state's nine-day gun deer season starts on Saturday and runs until Nov. 26, providing a chance for hunters to shoot hundreds of thousands of deer around Wisconsin to help feed their families. Few states east of the Mississippi River have as rich a hunting tradition as Wisconsin.
In this state, hunters still need to be at least 14 and have passed a hunter's safety class to hunt alone.
But the mentoring provision in the law allows children or adults who have not yet passed hunter's safety classes to participate in the deer hunt or any of the other seasons open in Wisconsin this fall such as small game, waterfowl, or turkey.
The mentor must be at least 18 and must stay within arm's reach of his or her student.
Assembly Bill 455 also now allows both a mentor and child of any age to carry a gun or bow. Previously, children had to be at least 10 to hunt with a mentor, and the adult and child between them could carry only one weapon.
The combination of those two changes makes longtime hunter's safety instructor Ray Anderson uneasy. Stressing he spoke only for himself, Anderson said he testified against the bill because he believes that mentors should leave their own guns at home and focus on the child they're teaching.