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Fun and "Game" for 8-year-olds from the Pennsylvania Game Commission

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At first, it sounded like protests against five-year-olds hunting deer.

But read closer and you discover the protests against the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners this month in Harrisburg were against a ban against
five-year-olds hunting deer. That's very different.

You see, last year Pennsylvania lawmakers made it legal for a child of any age--yes including your toddler--to hunt under the supervision of an adult in an effort to groom new hunters for the state. (Research reveals if kids don't start hunting young, they never will.)

Groundhogs, squirrels and gobblers were promptly put in juvenile sites.

But this year the Commissioners at the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC)
had second thoughts about juvenile deer hunting.

Could kid killers with no harvest tags make it more difficult to track the deer harvest?

And could adults hide behind the kid provision to shoot illegal game? (Who would authorities believe?)

Of course gun rights enthusiasts in Pennsylvania smelled gun grabbers and decried the PGC's "waffling" and plans to "gut" and "undermine" youth hunting programs.

"Many youth who experienced hunting with an adult mentor in 2006 because of the new program are eagerly waiting to pursue the crown jewel of hunting, the white-tail deer," wrote Ron Fretts of Scottsdale who headed the protest. "We stand to seriously disappoint those families."

"You are tearing the heart out of this very important program," agreed Janet Nyce, adviser to the Governor's Youth Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation.

At issue is not a kindergartner's second amendment right to defend his or her home and family against the bad guys. At least for now.

It's about keeping state game commissions in business as the declining number of hunters threatens their very existence.

"The single biggest challenge facing our two wildlife agencies in Pennsylvania is money. Or lack thereof," writes Dale Machesic, outdoors columnist at the Intelligencer. And, "the single biggest obligation to all fishing and hunting enthusiasts is to get kids involved."

After all, game commissions don't make money on hikers, joggers or picnickers. They don't make money on nature trails, dog walkers or birders.

They make money auctioning off animals on public lands--owned by you and me-- to hunters and trappers. And it's getting more difficult.

Just look at the PGC's ring neck pheasant program.

For 78 years the PGC has run a profitable pheasant breeding program hatching chicks on state game farms for controlled (see: "pull!") pheasant hunting on public lands. (Think Dick Cheney)

But last year declining hunting licenses and lack of new hunters forced the PGC to cut the yield in half from 200,000 to 100,000.

(You can't very well ask the state to finance shooting of pen-raised birds that can barely fly by lazy and unskilled hunters.)

Now the PGC is trying to get kids, any kids, to take up pheasant raising duties--offering free, day-old pheasant chicks to anyone with room for a covered pen in the back.

If the birds don't make it because they get a disease or it gets too hot or cold or the kids forget to feed them--kids being kids--or because the kids don't know what they're doing to begin with, well, they cost a dollar and a half each. (Like corporate farming contractors, kids pay for the feed and care themselves.)

But if the birds do make it the PGC saves the ten to 13 dollars it's been paying per professionally raised bird.

And best of all, the program grooms a new generation of hunting enthusiasts buying a new generation of hunting licenses. It is hoped.

This is a "wonderful get young people involved in raising birds," says Carl F. Riegner, Pennsylvania Commission Pheasant Propagation Division chief. "In the process they can learn about the food and habitat pheasants must have to survive in the wild, and they'll have the chance to see the chicks mature into adult game birds in response to their efforts."

Of course kids will also have the chance to see the chicks who matured in response to their efforts blown away by Dick Cheneys--all pheasants "must be released on lands open to public hunting"--but that might not dawn on them until later.

Will introducing five-year-olds to hunting--or eight-year-olds to game raising--make them life long hunters? It's too early to tell.

But it certain will keep their parents afield--and looking for gun grabbers.
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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