On April 22, the Montana House of Representatives voted to pass Senate Bill 218 by a vote of 90-10. The bill – sponsored by Montana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Mark Blasdel – would allow first-time adult hunters to participate in the state’s apprentice hunting program. SB 218 now only awaits the signature of Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Steve Bullock to become law. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and Sportsmen’s Alliance submitted a support letter on SB 218, respectfully urging Governor Bullock to sign this legislation into law.
Presently, only youth aged 10 – 17 may participate in the apprentice hunting program administered by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), so long as the youth in question is accompanied by a supervising hunter who is 21 years of age or older and who has a current, valid Montana hunting license. This effort, known nationally as Families Afield, seeks to expand hunting opportunities to ensure the next generation joins the ranks of America’s hunters. The “Try Before You Buy” approach embodied by SB 218 is the hallmark of Families Afield and has been adopted in 39 states throughout the nation, and has proven a success in Montana thus far, as evidenced by the fact that FWP issued nearly 4,600 apprentice hunting certificates in 2016.
More than 1.7 million participants have participated in apprentice hunting programs across the United States, and apprentice hunters have been proven to be more than five times safer than the general hunting population. By expanding the range of eligibility in apprentice hunting programs through innovative approaches like SB 218, as well as through other hunter recruitment and retention efforts, states can ensure a sustainable funding stream for conservation through the American System of Conservation Funding. Under this unique “user-pays, public-benefits” system, revenues from hunting and fishing license sales and excise taxes collected on the sale of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel fund state fish and wildlife management efforts.
For more information on this issue, see CSF’s issue brief, Apprentice Hunting Licenses.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?