Idaho children as young as 10 years old would be able to shoot wolves, bears and elk under a proposed bill headed to the state House floor.
The legislation is a two-year age decrease from the current big game minimum, which restricts 10 and 11 year-olds to small game hunting while under adult supervision.
The bill gives parents more freedom to choose if their child is ready to hunt big game animals, said Sharon Kiefer, deputy director for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
This is about opportunity and choice, Kiefer said, while speaking Thursday in front of the House Resources and Conservation Committee. Its not a mandate.
Idahos designated big-game animals include deer, elk, moose, wolves, bears, mountain lions and pronghorn antelope.
Idahoans born after Jan. 1, 1975, must first complete a hunter-education course before buying an Idaho hunting license or show completion of a similar course in another state.
The committee vote to send the bill to the floor, with only the committees three Democratic members voting against.
Ten-year-olds are still quite small, said state Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding. They may not be able to handle the weight of a rifle or its kick.
Her grandchildren, too young to hunt big game animals, still go out with their family hunting trips, Pence said. While they dont get to shoot, they do learn valuable lessons observing older hunters and helping pack out what the family shot.
This process that I just outlined builds character, she said. Quality experience is worth waiting for.
State Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said she opposes the bill because she was not provided enough data that lowering the age would be safe. Rubel said she recently read a news story, provided by Fish and Game following an information request, about a child that accidentally shot and killed an adult after thinking the person was a bear.
That didnt really put my mind at ease, Rubel said.
Bill supporter, state Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said parents should be the ones to decide if theyre children are ready to shoot rifles.
Waiting for her children to be old enough to shoot big game animals was considered a bummer for both she and her children, Boyle said
If you are a responsible parent and have taken the time through all those years, they already know gun safety, Boyle said. Its not like you just put a rifle in their hands opening day. Theyve had experience in shooting and carrying.
State Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said he was ready to vote against the bill because some of his constituents told him they opposed it, adding that as a Boy Scout leader, he sees 10-year-olds with high energy levels that probably shouldnt hold rifles.
But after listening to Kiefers presentation, Andrus recanted.
Im going to talk to more of my constituents, he said. If I change my mind, Ill let the chairman know.