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Local man fights for minimum hunting age

November 24, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN - Norm Phelps grew up hunting with his father.

Now, the 64-year-old Funkstown resident is trying to lead a charge to convince Maryland lawmakers to establish a minimum hunting age.

Phelps, program coordinator for the Fund for Animals, said the group is calling on Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Natural Resources Secretary C. Ronald Franks to establish age requirements for hunters in the state. Phelps said the failure to do so could lead to tragic hunting accidents involving children.

"In Maryland, to drive, you have to be 15 years and 9 months old (for restricted driver's privileges), to drink you have to be 21 and to vote you have to be 18," Phelps said. "But, at 8 or 9 years old, you can take a high-powered, long-range rifle into the woods and fire it."

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According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Web site, www.dnr.state.md.us, the state accepts and grants hunting licenses to minors, though parental permission is required. In fact, the department offers "resident junior hunters," hunters younger than 16, a free, one-year license upon successful completion of the Hunter Safety and Education course, the site says. The site makes no mention of any age restrictions for hunting in the state.

Phelps said he believes it is too easy for children to obtain a hunter's license through the existing hunting education course and test. He said there is no actual observance, like during a driver's test, for would-be hunters.

"Nobody takes you hunting to see how you do in the field to decide if you get the hunting license," he said.

Phelps said he recently drafted and sent letters to Ehrlich and Franks, on behalf of the Fund For Animals, on the issue and hopes to receive a response soon.

The Fund For Animals is an animal protection organization with approximately 200,000 members worldwide. There are about 5,000 members from Maryland alone, Phelps said.

Phelps, who hunted with his father as a child and gave up the activity as a teen because he believed it was "utterly wrong," said he believes the need for the minimum age was illustrated by a fatal hunting accident on the Eastern Shore last month. Phelps said Tyler Mattison, an unlicensed hunter from Baltimore County, was killed as a result of a crossbow wound while hunting with his father.

Phelps said he believes the course Mattison would have taken to obtain the license likely would not have prevented the tragedy.

"There's no reason to think it wouldn't have happened, because it happened while his father was with him," he said.

Phelps said he hopes this issue is one on which Fund for Animals members and devoted hunters can agree. He said he believes hunters would not want to see children getting injured or the activity suffer a public relations "black eye" because of a youth fatality.

"I think this is one issue where we have common ground," he said.

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