Opportunities exist across the country to enrich the lives of terminally ill youth by facilitating hunting and fishing opportunities for them at no cost. This charitable mission provides truly invaluable life experiences for these children to take part in America’s sportsmen’s heritage. Many states have passed legislation allowing state fish and wildlife agencies to quickly and efficiently provide terminally ill individuals with opportunities to hunt and fish.
There exists a special opportunity across the country to enrich the lives of terminally ill youth by facilitating no-cost hunting and fishing opportunities that will provide them with truly invaluable life experiences. The idea of offering these special opportunities to terminally ill youth is not new and has long been a goal of many well-known hunting and conservation organizations, with some (e.g., Hunt of a Lifetime) making it their primary goal. State legislators are now also joining this charitable mission. In recent years, several states have introduced legislation that would allow for special hunting and fishing permits, in some cases out of season, for these individuals. Among the states that have proposed such legislation are California, South Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, among others.
- On October 17, 2008, terminally ill hunting legislation in New Hampshire allowed a nine-year-old boy to go on a successful moose hunt. He suffers from a rare and incurable autoimmune disease but could not have been happier on that day.
- On March 15, 2010, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour approved House Bill 1070, establishing a hunting season specifically for terminally ill youth under 18 years of age by authorizing the Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks to establish a special permit for children with a life threatening illness.
- In 2013, legislation was enacted in Maine which allows for the issuance of special hunting privileges to persons with a terminal illness who are under 21 years of age.
- In 2018, Wisconsin became the latest state to enact terminally ill youth hunting opportunities legislation, with the passage of Assembly Bill 461, which eliminated license fees for both in-state and out-of-state youth with terminal illnesses participating in hunting and fishing activities in Wisconsin.
- In 2021, Illinois amended their Wildlife Code (HB 2168) and included the opportunity for terminally ill prospective hunters to receive a hunting license discounts and the ability to hunt out of season (520 ILCS 5/3.1).
The following states have passed terminally ill youth hunting opportunity legislation using the language below:
- Maine Title 12, chapter 408, § 10105, subsection 16: “In addition to the permits issued by the commissioner pursuant to section 11154, subsection 13, in extenuating circumstances the commissioner may issue up to 2 additional permits or licenses for other hunting or fishing adventures to a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing hunting and fishing adventures to children under 21 years of age with life threatening, critical or terminal illnesses.”
- Mississippi Title 49, chapter 7, § 49-7-38.1: “The Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks shall establish a special hunting permit for youth under the age of eighteen (18) who have a life threatening illness. This permit may be for any number of days in length but only for the class of persons deemed to have a life-threatening illness by the commission. This special hunting permit for youth having a life-threatening illness may occur anytime during the calendar year and for any game bird or game animal. However, the commission may not allow these permits during any time that conflicts with laws governing the taking of federally protected birds or species.”
- South Carolina HB 3517: “Provides that the director of the Department of Natural Resources may issue special authorization for hunting and fishing to any person who is not more than a certain age who has been diagnosed with a terminal or life threatening illness or injury who is sponsored by certain nonprofit charitable organizations; provides that any license, tag and fee requirements for hunting and fishing are waived; allows the director to determine the period of time the special authorization is valid.”
- Wisconsin AB 461: “The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows: Section 1. 29.194 (1) (d) of the statutes is created to read:
- (d) 1. In this paragraph, “terminally ill” means that an individual has been certified by a physician as having an illness or physical condition that can reasonably be expected to result in death. 2) The department shall treat an individual as a resident for purposes of determining the person’s eligibility for a hunting or fishing approval under this chapter, except for a conservation patron license issued under s. 29.235 (3m), if the individual presents proof that he or she is terminally ill and is participating in a hunting-related or fishing-related event sponsored by a charitable organization that is described in section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that is exempt from taxation under section 501 (a) of the Internal Revenue Code. 3) An individual under subd. 2. or a resident who presents the same proof as required under subd. 2. is not required to pay any fee imposed for a hunting or fishing approval, including any issuing, handling, or processing fee or any wildlife damage surcharge.”
- California AB 2523: “Requires the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to establish a program to increase big game, upland game bird, and migratory game bird hunting opportunities for individuals under 18 years of age who either have a terminal illness, as defined, or have lost a parent while the parent was actively serving in the United States Armed Forces or in local, state, or federal law enforcement or fire service.
In order for fish and wildlife agency leaders to quickly and efficiently provide terminally ill individuals with these opportunities, continued legislation may be warranted. Legislators are encouraged to work with their respective state fish and wildlife agencies to ensure that any such legislation meets the needs of both terminally ill youth and state wildlife managers.