Youth hunting season confusion

January 30, 2008 at 10:40 PM

I’ve always had the opinion that politics play a larger part in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and hunting regulations than they should. After learning even more the last few days, I’m even more convinced.

A friend of mine was all set to take his daughter turkey hunting during the Spring Youth Season. With the passage of the new Hunter Apprentice License program in 2006, he figured she could hunt this first year without taking the hunters safety course. The Apprentice Hunting License is a program that was aimed at hunter recruitment. Under this law the license is good for one year, and allows the hunter to forego the state-mandated hunter safety course during this time provided they are supervised by a licensed hunter. 

The law makes good sense, and it seems as though it would let new hunters get a start before they take the plunge of taking a hunter safety class.

And the state of Illinois has some awesome youth seasons. We have a special youth season for turkeys, deer and waterfowl. All of these seasons allow the kids a chance to go afield before the rest of the hunting public does, while being accompanied by a non-hunting adult. As a result, the youth opportunities in Illinois are among the best in the nation. So, one would figure that a combination of the youth seasons coupled with the new Apprentice Hunting License would really make things easy to get their child started in their first year.

Here’s where it gets strange. Nobody thought to check the administrative rules that govern the youth hunting seasons when the Apprentice Hunting License was implemented. Keep in mind, the Apprentice Hunting License has been in effect for more than one whole season now. It took several months to get the Apprentice Hunting License legislation pushed through the General Assembly. This isn’t exactly breaking news.

The Apprentice Hunting License only takes the place of a regular hunting license. The special license holder must still have the appropriate permits, and must conform to all the other requirements set forth in any special hunt or special season. In the general seasons (deer and turkey) a person is required to have a hunting license and a permit. The Apprentice Hunting License takes the place of a regular hunting license the first year. 

Sounds simple enough. But the ad rules that cover the youth seasons state that each youth must have a hunting license (unless exempt), a permit, AND must have completed a state-approved hunter safety course. So even if a youth has a new Apprentice Hunting License, these ad rules state that the kids still must pass the course.

Here we have a law that is supposed to recruit new hunters by letting them hunt before taking the hunter safety course. But they cannot hunt in the youth season that was designed for hunter recruitment. They can’t take part in the season that was designed specifically for them which requires a non-hunting adult be with them at all times; but they can hunt in the regular season when the rest of the hunting public is afield and their licensed supervisor is also hunting. 

During which season would you think it would be more important to have passed the hunter safety course?

Now, you might think this is a case of DNR Law Enforcement not being real picky on enforcing the wording of the ad rule, since the “intent” of the new law was not to exclude new youth hunters from taking part in the youth seasons. I really believe this was a major oversight and points out the fact that our DNR is seriously underfunded and understaffed. It’s also a perfect example of our hunting statutes, game code, and administrative rules being so complex and vague, that it almost takes a Yale law grad to figure them out. This is what happens when politicians write the laws that affect hunting regulations without even consulting with the DNR.

At the very least, you’d think that the DNR would write a press release stating that youth seasons do not apply to the Apprentice Hunting License right now. How many hunters do you think realize this? The Apprentice Hunting License is a one-time shot. How many people will burn this one Apprentice Hunting License, and then not be able to use it because of an ad rule loophole?

Or one might think that the DNR, since they know about the blunder a full three months before the next youth season will take place, would work on a fix to the solution in the form of an emergency ad rule. But all I’ve been able to obtain thus far is the official position from Law Enforcement, after conferring with DNR legal counsel, that they would enforce the law as it is written. There is no room for interpretation.

So, everyone please be aware of this issue. As it stands right now, any youth participating in the youth deer or turkey seasons must have a valid hunting license or Apprentice Hunting License, AND must have passed a hunter safety course. But if they’re going to take the hunter safety course, you might as well forget the Apprentice Hunting License and get the regular license.

That’s political Illinois game management at its finest. By the time you sort through all the different opinions on the law; then try to find all the applicable statutes, administrative rules, or then listen to the legal version, then figure out how it’s being enforced, then find out what the original intent of the law was, then actually try to fix something, it’s too late to get anything done.

And don’t even get me started on the existing law that makes it illegal to shoot coyotes from any kind of tree stand.