Lawmakers are once again proposing a minimum age for unaccompanied hunting in Washington.
A bill in the state House would bar anyone under the age of 14 from hunting without an adult who is a licensed hunter. The measure would also prevent anyone under the age of 8 from enrolling in one of the state's hunter education courses.
State Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, is the sponsor of House Bill 2459. He introduced similar legislation in 2009 and 2013 that passed the House, but the bills didnt receive a vote on the Senate floor.
This year's legislation was requested by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which licenses hunters and also administers hunter safety courses in Washington. Hunting with a state license and attending a hunter education course are two of the few settings where minor children are legally allowed to wield firearms in the state.
The goals of the bill are really to increase safety, said David Whipple, hunter education division manager with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Right now theres no requirement for anyone to be accompanied, no matter what their age is, when theyre out there hunting.
Limiting hunter education classes to those 8 and older would not only improve safety for children; it would also improve the quality of the courses for adult students, Whipple said. Right now, 6- and 7-year-olds frequently sign up for the hunter education courses, which can force instructors to dumb down the course material, he said.
These (6- and 7-year-old) folks are typically not physically mature enough nor physically developed enough to really handle firearms safely, Whipple said.
The legislation would also institute a $20 fee for hunter education courses and a $10 fee for copies of hunter education certificates. Those provisions would raise about $273,000 annually for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to agency estimates. Whipple said charging a fee for the hunter education courses would help cut down on no-shows.
No one testified against Blake's proposal when it received a hearing Thursday before the House Agriculture & Natural Resource Committee, which Blake chairs.
A companion proposal, Senate Bill 6039, also received a hearing in the Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee this week.