SARATOGA COUNTY – Saratoga County on Tuesday became one of the first counties in the state to lower the hunting age for big-game hunters from 14 to 12, effective this fall.
The lower hunting age — an effort to encourage a new generation of big-game hunters — was approved by the state Legislature and signed into law earlier this year, but with a provision that requires county legislatures to vote to adopt a local law to “opt-in” to allowing the lower hunting age.
While a Daily Gazette survey of local counties last month indicated that nearly all rural counties with established hunting traditions are expected to approve the change, most wouldn’t be acting until after Saratoga County, where the approval process began in April.
Under the law, youths ages 12 and 13 will now be allowed to hunt deer and other big game using rifles, shotguns or muzzle-loading guns or crossbows, but only under the proper supervision of an experienced adult hunter. The youths also must be licensed, which requires them to have completed a hunter education course.
The state legislation stipulates that the lower age is a pilot program, to run through 2023 and then be evaluated. Counties have until Sept. 1 to opt in, though state officials hope for sooner action so the change can be included in state-issued hunting guides.
“This is an exciting development for the youth hunters in Saratoga County,” said Todd Kusnierz, R-Moreau, chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. “Hunting is a formative activity for many families in our community, and we look forward to providing new opportunities for our young hunters to safely and effectively learn techniques to grow and improve their hunting season experience.”
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Genesee, Livingston, Rensselaer, and Yates counties legislatures have already taken action, and the agency expects that many, given their legislative calendars, will need until mid-summer to adopt local laws. While anyone authorized to issue hunting licenses can issue them to youth hunters, the licenses can only be used in counties that have opted in to the program.
Hunting activities in general have been on the decline for several decades — something the DEC would like to reverse, since hunters play a role in reducing deer overpopulation, a problem throughout the state. It is also a family tradition for many people, and a source of food, like venison.
The DEC reported last month that the trend toward fewer hunters reversed last year, with an estimated 253,990 deer taken, an increase of 13% from 2019.
DEC said increased harvests may have been due, at least in part, to additional hunters and renewed motivation to harvest venison during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the number of licensed big game hunters increased to just over 588,000, about 7% more than 2019.
“Hunters are wonderful stewards of the land and many of these avid hunters throughout our state are aging,” Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, said in a release following the county vote. “This pilot program that will lower the age of hunters is an essential step in engaging the next generation.”
Said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake: “Hunting is a part of the traditions and culture of our upstate communities and is a key strategy for managing the deer population. Expanding youth hunting opens opportunities for families to hunt together in New York and helps protect habitats.”