New York’s 2021 budget allowed counties to lower the youth hunting minimum age and fall more in line with the rest of the country. All but one county adopted the lowered age.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz overruled his county legislature and vetoed the proposal. Poloncarz’s reasoning behind this move has New York hunters and supporters of the proposal scratching their heads.
Hunting Traditions in New York State
New York imposed a minimum age requirement of 14 years old on minors hunting big game with firearms while accompanied and supervised by an experienced adult hunter prior to this year. That age restriction was already higher than most states and New York was the only state to forbid kids at this age from hunting big game with a gun with adult supervision.
It was also a lost opportunity by denying New Yorkers the ability to begin learning meaningful family hunting traditions in the fields and woods. It also meant lost revenue for the state from hunting license sales and firearms, ammunition and hunter safety registration purchases.
To remedy the problem, New York state legislators included a provision in the 2021 state budget to allow counties to opt in to lowering the big game firearm hunting age limit down to 12 while accompanied and supervised by an experienced adult hunter. At the time, New York Republican state Sen. Dan Stec said the proposal was a way to take advantage of the increased interest in hunting during the coronavirus pandemic. “The sporting community saw a big boost this past year. Many more hunting licenses were sold and there was a dramatic increase in hunter education courses.”
The budget passed and, unsurprisingly, 49 eligible counties passed their opt-in. Eight downstate counties were ineligible. New York Department of Environment Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos cheered the development. “This new opportunity allows experienced, adult hunters to introduce the value of hunting to the next generation.” Seggos added, “Teaching these young people safe, responsible, and ethical hunting practices will ensure a rewarding experience every time they are afield.”
Erie County’s legislature even passed the opt-in by a 6-5 vote. But Poloncarz had other ideas based on false data and gun control talking points. He vetoed it.
“There have been many unfortunate firearm accidents across the state and country, especially those involving youth hunters,” he wrote. He added there’s an “inherent danger” in allowing children 12 and 13 years old to shoot deer with a firearm while accompanied and supervised by an experienced adult hunter.
Hunting Data Says What?
Poloncarz is ignoring his own state’s data. New York’s DEC report on 2020 Hunting Safety Statistics shines a bright light on just how safe and responsible hunters have been in the Empire State, including youth hunters.
Since 1960, the average number of hunting-related shooting incidents (HRSI) involving firearms in New York for all ages has dropped each decade. In the 1960s, an average of approximately 140 HRSIs occurred each year; dropping to 100 during the 1970s; nearly 45 throughout the 2000s; and now down to less than 25 each year on average in the 2020s. In 2020 specifically, there were 22 HRSIs.
Poloncarz’s false claim that children are an “inherent danger” regarding hunting firearm accidents took liberties with the ages of those involved in the incidents. The average age of the involved hunter in 2020’s 22 accidents was 41 years. The average experience of the hunter was 21 years. The “Big Game Hunting” numbers are even worse for Poloncarz’s argument.
The DEC put it plainly. “While hunting is safer than ever, DEC encourages hunters to remember that every hunting-related shooting incident is preventable.”
New York’s data also shows new and young hunters are learning safety protocols. The 2020 HRSI data on the number of new hunters completing New York’s online hunter’s safety courses was 67,270.
Firearm Training & Safe Gun Handling
Americans are staying on the blistering pace of buying firearms this year after last year’s record total of 21 million. Industry retailer survey data from the first half of 2021 show large numbers of those purchasers bought their guns for self-defense reasons, but interest in hunting activities also skyrocketed as Americans sought refuge outside during the coronavirus pandemic.
More hunters learning safe and responsible firearm handling at an early age is a good thing, especially while guided by a trusted adult supervisor. New York’s data proves this. Instead of playing gun control politics, Poloncarz should follow the data and allow America’s hunting heritage to be passed on to the next generation.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.