Hunting runs deep in Maine. Even with the number of young hunters in decline, there still are a lot of kids who look forward to getting out in the woods each fall.

The problem is, they don’t have enough time out there alone, with just a trusted adult, before more experienced hunters come along.

In the name of helping build the next generation of hunters, Maine should give it to them.

Last Saturday was the annual Youth Deer Day in Maine, when hunters age 16 and under for one day get the woods to themselves, as long as they are accompanied by an adult not carrying a gun. Youth hunters can harvest any deer that day, does as well as bucks. It accounts for 3% to 4% of the total harvest, Deirdre Fleming of the Portland Press Herald reported Sunday.

It is, more than anything, an opportunity for junior hunters to gain experience. They get to learn about the woods and the wildlife that lives there. They learn firearm safety and hunting protocol — how to act in the middle of a hunt so that everyone stays safe and has a good time.

Young hunters say they could use more times like Youth Deer Day, when they are not in competition with older hunters.

“I think, honestly, having a couple more youth days would be beneficial,” 16-year-old Arianna Starbird of Sumner told Fleming. “It would give us more experience and a better chance to learn and focus on what we’re doing. And it would take the pressure off during the regular season.”

Sounds like a great idea. There are indications that fewer and fewer Maine kids are taking up hunting. Among them, junior hunting licenses have declined steadily for two decades, with last year’s totals not much more than half of 2002’s (though that doesn’t account for lifetime licenses).

Additional youth days could give more young Mainers the opportunity to try out a sport that brings families together, feeds people, and helps build a healthy respect for nature and all that is in it.

Besides that, Fleming’s story shows that there are Maine kids out there who love hunting but aren’t able to enjoy it enough, with just the one youth-only day. There must be a way to get them more chances to hunt in conditions where they are comfortable.

As Fleming mentions, a number of states, including Vermont and New Hampshire, hold two youth-only days per season. Others add more extra days, before or after the regular firearm season.

One 16-year-old from Buxton told the Press Herald youth hunters should get five weekdays early in the season so they could hunt after school.

It’s an idea worth considering. Maybe that works, or something else does.

In any case, if Maine kids want to enjoy the outdoors and carry on the tradition of hunting, they should get that chance.


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