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HELENA, Mont. - The youth deer hunt (for ages 10-15) runs Oct. 21 and 22, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has allowed children as young as 10 to to hunt with a mentor for two seasons without completing Hunter Education since 2015.

The decision of whether or not your child is ready to be an Apprentice Hunter is left up to the parents or guardians, but FWP is offering tips that may help in the decision-making process.

According to FWP Outdoor Skills and Safety Supervisor Wayde Cooperider, would-be apprentices need two things: Physical and emotional maturity.

“What I mean by that is, is that youngster emotionally ready for the experience of taking an animal’s life, and dealing with that whole experience - the blood, the field dressing, and that process - and how are they going to take that in?” Cooperider asked. “And I think a big factor in how that plays out is how the parents handle it before, during and after.” 

Children take cues from their parents’ behavior.

“There’s a compassion component that I think the parents need to exhibit with their kids, and patience,” he said. “Let kids know that it’s okay to not squeeze that trigger if they’re not ready."

If a child does down an animal, Cooperider says you should pay attention to their reaction.

“Be really conscious of how that youngster is dealing with the aftermath, and don’t force them into doing something they’re not comfortable with,” he said. "Field dressing an animal and eating a chunk of raw liver may be a cool tradition for some adults, but it could turn a child off to hunting in a hurry."

“There’s another component too, and that’s being physically able to handle the firearm,” Cooperider said. “And it being sized for the kid and having practiced with it and knowing how it functions.”

“And if they don’t practice with it, they’re not comfortable and confident in what they’re doing, and that’s a huge thing right there - that self-confidence, knowing the gun and knowing they can hit their target,” he added.

Children should be given plenty of time to practice shooting at a range or where you plan to hunt to instill confidence.

“Try some shooting positions that they would actually use out in the field, and shoot at their target,” Cooperider said. “That way, they’re going to know what their personal effective range is.”

You should also consider that a child’s stamina is not equal to an adult’s and plan the walking distance and activity according to the child's abilities.

Apprenticeship doesn’t require hunter education, but Cooperider recommends kids take the course first. Even 10-year-olds can enroll in a course and apprentice in the same season.

“I encourage parents, at any age, before they take their kid out hunting or the child buys his or her first hunting license, that they do everything they can to get that child into a hunter education class first. It just gives them a good basis to start with,” he said.

The general deer season begins Oct. 23, so if you plan to have your child hunt as an apprentice you should get them registered soon.

The apprentice needs to get certified at an FWP office, or the proper documents can be mailed in. The documents can be here: http://fwp.mt.gov/.../all/apprenticeHunter/default.html.

Filling out the documents beforehand will save a lot of time once your child goes in to get certified.

Here are a couple of reminders from FWP before you bring your child in to get certified:

⦁ A parent’s/legal guardian’s driver’s license is REQUIRED to enter the child in the ALS system

⦁ For first time apprentices, the last four digits of their social security number is REQUIRED to be entered into the ALS system

⦁ The youth should be present to properly sign the form and understand the process

⦁ A mentor MUST be 21 years old or older. If the apprentice hunter is under 18 years of age, the mentor must be related to the apprentice by blood, adoption, or marriage, be the apprentice’s legal guardian, or be designated by the apprentice’s legal guardian

⦁ The cost to be certified is $5. After becoming certified, all other normal license fees apply

⦁ An apprentice can only do the program for two years before they must take hunter education

If you have any questions contact your local FWP office, or go online and search for the apprentice hunter information on the FWP website at www.fwp.mt.gov.

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