The current law in Wyoming sets the legal hunting age at 12 years old. But two new bills would allow exceptions for younger hunters.
Wyoming Bill Would Grant Wishes
The first bill, HB 84, drew its inspiration from a young girl named Naomi. Naomi had terminal cancer. A Make-a-Wish child, her wish was to hunt big game in Wyoming. But she couldn’t do it because she was younger than 12, the Sheridan Press reports.
“I think she was 10 or 11,” Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Sheridan, who is sponsoring HB 84, told the Sheridan Press. “Unfortunately, the age of 12 is clearly defined in state statute, and there was no workaround. My bill just gives the [Wyoming] Game and Fish Commission the ability to grant exceptions.”
HB 84 lets the Game and Fish Commission waive the minimum hunting age if a young hunter can prove they are suffering from degenerative, progressive or malignant medical conditions that put their future at risk.
Bill Would Let 11-Year-Olds Hunt
The second bill, HB 115, allows 11-year-olds to hunt big game, provided they are turning 12 within the calendar year.
Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, told the Sheridan Press that he’s not sure about his bill’s chances of passage. But he hopes it at least starts a discussion.
“I haven’t gotten a feel yet for whether it might go through or not go through,” Paxton said. “But I certainly think it merits a conversation.”
Under existing rules, young hunters can hunt upland birds and small game. But they cannot hunt big game, such as antelope, elk, bison, moose, mule and white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats.
“The purpose of [the bill] is, if you have a December birthday like I do, you automatically miss out on a year of hunting as opposed to someone who is born in January,” Paxton told the Sheridan Press. “This just evens the playing field so kids with late birthdays can have the same opportunities as those with birthdays earlier in the year.”
Young hunters must have a license application signed by a parent or guardian and be with someone older than 18 at all times while hunting. And any hunter under 55 is required to undergo a hunter education certification. The only exception to that is if they have gotten a Hunter Mentor Program authorization and go hunting with a mentor.
All those requirements would still apply to young hunters who are able to hunt as a result of the passage of the two bills.
“I think both [bills] merit discussion,” Western said. “As long as kids have an adult with them, and they’ve gone through hunter safety protocols, that’s what is important.”