I love Montana for its outdoor opportunities. But when it comes to accommodating youth hunters, my home state could learn a thing or two. Just ask my son, Jack, who wants nothing more than to stalk deer and elk but needs to wait another year until he turns 12 to do it here at home. Fortunately, several states understand that recruiting new hunters is critical and have taken steps to make it happen.
Jack’s salvation was a road trip last fall to Nebraska, which slashed the cost and requirements for youth hunters a couple of years ago. Any child, resident or not, between 10 and 15 years old can hunt deer in Nebraska (with no hunter education requirement, though they must hunt with an adult) and take two bucks for $6 each. A Nebraska kid would have to find $490.50 to hunt a single buck in Montana. Jack shot two whitetails that have been feeding our family. More important, his experience helped create another hunter for our ranks.
This state channels Gold Hat from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: “Licenses? You don’t need no licenses.” Up to the age of 16, children in Alabama don’t need to purchase a license and can hunt as much as they want as long as an adult with a hunting license is with them. And Alabama has no annual bag limit on deer. This applies to nonresident youth as well.
If you can get your family to Texas, you won’t have to spend a bundle hunting there. The cost of resident and nonresident youth hunting licenses is just $7. And when you see the laundry list of tags for deer, turkeys, and other animals, you could be forgiven for thinking there is a catch. There isn’t. Hunter education is encouraged but not required.
For children 12 to 15 years old, an annual hunting license costs $6, increasing to $10 for nonresidents. Deer and turkey tags cost a resident youth $10 each, and go for $15 for kids from out of state. Kentucky is even generous with its coveted elk tags, which are available only by lottery. Whereas a nonresident adult pays $550 for a bull permit, a youth is charged only $40.
5. South Dakota
Hunting pheasants in South Dakota is practically a rite of passage for upland bird hunters, and thousands of nonresidents flock to the state each fall. For adults, the $125 permit, which is good for two 5-day periods of hunting, isn’t unreasonable. Even better, you can bring a youth hunter along and his or her tag for small game, which includes birds, is only $14.
States’ minimum-hunting-age rules and the lack of a try-before-you-buy apprentice hunting program are the two biggest barriers to greater youth hunting participation, says Evan Heusinkveld of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Any conversation about restrictive states starts with those two categories.”