By: Mark Lance, Southeastern States Coordinator
Growing up in Mississippi, I was blessed to have a family that had a passion for fishing, hunting, and wildlife conservation. The night before opening day of hunting season was met with sleeplessness as the excitement of tomorrow’s hunt weighed on my mind. Some of my fondest childhood memories were spent in the sunflower fields during dove season with my closest friends and family, listening for that first spring gobble at the top of a white oak ridge, and sharing a deer stand with a loved one on a frosty December morning.
Sportsmen and women realize the importance of passing down traditions to the next generation of hunters, and many experienced hunters have a desire to give new hunters the opportunity to experience the outdoors. An apprentice hunting license is an important tool available in most states for novice adults and youth hunters to hunt under the supervision of a licensed hunter before completing their hunter education course. Apprentice licenses allow these new hunters to “try it before they buy it,” which is one less hoop a curious potential hunter has to jump through to gauge their interest in the sport.
Apprentice hunters must be under the direct supervision of an experienced licensed hunter, which provides a safe educational experience. Some might consider it dangerous for people who have not completed a hunter education course to hunt, but research shows that, when compared to general license holders, apprentice hunters are four times less likely to be involved in a hunting-related accident.
Due to the concern over the decreasing number of hunters in the United States, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and Families Afield partners advocate for apprentice hunting licenses to help stop the decline and support hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) efforts. Currently, 47 states have some form of apprentice hunting license, and some states have even expanded their apprentice license programs. For example, South Carolina passed legislation in 2020 that removed the one-year limit on apprentice hunting licenses. Similarly, West Virginia passed legislation in 2020 that removed the three-time limitation on the number of apprentice hunting and trapping licenses a person may purchase to provide additional opportunities for youth and novice adults to experience hunting.
Whether it be kids or novice adults who want to experience the traditions we love and cherish, we should continue to welcome them with open arms and provide them with experiences that will leave a lasting, positive impact on their lives. Mississippians over the age of 15 have been able to buy apprentice hunting licenses since 2011, and I have since witnessed how apprentice licenses have paved the way for new hunters that have since become contributors to the American System of Conservation Funding. I look forward to taking newcomers hunting, and I will encourage them to utilize the apprentice hunting license as they get started. I am hopeful that my home state, and others, will examine their apprentice license offerings to consider expanding this opportunity to our future sportsmen and women across the country.