In an attempt to encourage novice hunter participation, many states now offer some form of apprentice hunting license that permits hunters to take to the field with a mentor prior to completing a formal hunter education course. The apprentice hunting license is a tool for recruitment that provides both youth and adult novice hunters the opportunity to hunt under the supervision of a licensed hunter before they invest the time and energy into completing hunter education, creating a “try before you buy” option for those who may be interested in our time-honored traditions. These programs allow apprentice hunters to receive hands-on experience and provide additional incentive to complete a formal hunter education course.
To increase hunter participation, many states now offer some form of youth hunting season for various species in hopes of encouraging young potential hunters to go afield. Similarly, the apprentice hunting license provides both youth and novice adult hunters the opportunity to hunt under the supervision of an experienced and licensed hunter before they have completed their hunter education course. In essence, the apprentice license allows potential hunters to “try it before they buy it,” making entry into the sport less challenging or intimidating for new recruits. These programs allow apprentice hunters to receive hands-on experience while providing additional incentive to complete a formal hunter education course. In some states, the apprentice hunting license may be referred to as a “mentored hunter program.”
The idea of apprentice hunting licenses was introduced to the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) at the 2005 NASC Annual Meeting, and CSF began tracking the issue during the 2006 legislative session. Currently, some form of apprentice hunting license is available in 47 states.
Points of Interest
It is the duty of each caucus’ leadership, in conjunction with each state’s wildlife management agency, to determine the best means of action in your respective state and modify the below language as necessary. If the language must be modified, please keep in mind the following:
- Laws such as minimum age requirements can be relaxed without compromising safety.
- Apprentice opportunities should be available to each person for a minimum of three years because the process of recruiting a new hunter may take several years due to limited opportunity. For this reason, many states allow multiple year extensions.
- Because of the emphasis placed on safe hunting practices, apprentice hunters experience greatly decreased rates of hunting accidents. When comparing the number of hunting-related incidents between apprentice and general hunting licensees, apprentice hunters are nearly eight times safer than the average hunter. Hunters can carry these safe practices throughout their hunting career.
- Wisconsin implemented its apprentice hunting license system during the 2009 hunting season after a long and difficult legislative battle that was blocked for years over safety concerns. In the 2009 season, more than 10,000 apprentice licenses were sold and there were no firearms-related incidents involving apprentice license holders.
- As of 2018, 47 states have now passed some type of apprentice license and more than 1.5 million such licenses have been sold nationwide.
- During the 2017 legislative session, the Governor of Maryland signed HB 1427, establishing an Apprentice Hunting License.
- In 2018, the California Legislature passed a law reducing the cost of big game hunting tags for junior hunters.
- Legislation designed to set up an apprentice license program was introduced in Hawaii in 2018 but failed to advance.
- In 2020, the West Virginia House passed HB 4523 that removes the limitation of number of apprentice hunting license a person may purchase.
- In 2022, Iowa passed HB 2209 which permits residents under the age of sixteen to accompany a licensed adult while the adult is hunting or trapping game and furbearers without the youth needed to possess a hunting or fur harvester license. However, minors may not carry a firearm while accompanying a licensed adult.
Examples of apprentice hunting license legislation can be found below. For further examples of specific language, please contact CSF staff.
- North Carolina Ch. SL 2013-63: “Hunting Heritage Apprentice Permit. – Authorizes a person who does not meet the hunter education course requirements to purchase a hunting license and hunt if accompanied by an adult at least 18 years of age who is licensed to hunt in this State or if accompanied by an adult landholder or spouse exempted from the hunting license requirement, provided the licensee is hunting on the landholder’s land. For purposes of this section, “accompanied” means that the licensed adult maintains a proximity that enables the adult to monitor the activities of the apprentice by remaining within sight and hearing distance at all times without use of electronic devices. This permit is valid only for the term of the hunting license purchased under the authority of the permit.”
- South Carolina SC Code § 50-9-740 (2018 HB 4828): “A person who is less than eighteen years of age may be a youth hunter. Youth hunters who have not completed the hunter education program pursuant to Section 50-9-310, who hunt on a statewide youth hunting day, must be accompanied by an adult who is at least twenty-one years of age. The adult may not harvest or attempt to harvest game during this special hunting event. A license or tag requirement pursuant to this chapter is waived for a youth hunter on a youth hunting day. A daily harvest limit remains the same as allowed during regular seasons for each species of game.”
- South Dakota HB 1034 (2021): “Notwithstanding any provisions of Title 41 to the contrary, a child who is a resident of this state and less than sixteen years of age is not required to possess a hunting license in order to hunt, if the child is accompanied by a hunting mentor.”
- Illinois H 3623 (2019): Amends the Wildlife Code; provides that the Department of Natural Resources shall create a pilot program during the special, youth only deer hunting season to allow for youth deer hunting permits that are valid statewide, excluding those counties, or portions of counties, closed to firearm deer hunting.
Recruiting new hunters is essential to maintaining our sporting heritage. As such, it is important to explore and advance programs like apprentice hunting licenses in order to reduce the barriers to participation currently inhibiting the growth of the sportsmen’s community.