After the presents, the huge meal, the Christmas movies, football games and leftovers, there’s another way to enjoy vacation time with your family this holiday season. Kentucky’s free youth seasons offer families a chance to enjoy the outdoors without requiring kids to buy a license or permit. It’s a welcome break after buying all those Christmas presents.
Children and teens ages 15 and under may hunt deer with a firearm Dec. 26-27, and may hunt and trap small game and furbearers Dec. 26–Jan. 1 without a license or permit.
“We want to promote youth participation in hunt- ing. We want kids to hunt at the youngest age their parents feel they are ready,” said Bill Balda, recruitment and retention branch manager for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We know if we can get youth interested in hunting by the age of 12 or 13 they will most likely be lifelong hunters — and hunters are an integral part of our wildlife management.”
Kids aren’t just license and permit exempt during these seasons, they are also exempt from hunter education requirements. However, adult supervision laws are in place to make sure they stay safe in the woods.
Youth 15 and under who hunt deer with a firearm must always hunt beside an adult. The adult must be in a position to take immediate control of the youth’s firearm at all times. Small game and fur bearer hunters under 12 who do not have a hunter education card must hunt with an adult regardless of the hunting method they use.
Adults should always ensure kids follow hunter safety rules. “Our most common incidents that cause injuries during hunting are falling out of tree stands, accidental discharge of firearms and failing to identify the target or make sure there’s a good backstop,” Balda said. “As far as tree stands, if the child or adult is leaving the ground, they need to be tied off to the tree. They need to use a body harness tied to a safety strap around the tree.”
Hunters can prevent accidents with firearms by treating every gun as if it were loaded. That means always pointing the gun in a safe direction, keeping it unloaded and the action open until the hunt begins, and keeping your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
“Be sure of your target, what’s in front of it, and what’s behind it,” Balda said. “If you’re small game hunting, never follow across the line. That means if a bird flushes, never follow the bird with the muzzle of your gun across the line of hunters beside you.”
Finally, be sure to take kids out ahead of time to a range or another safe place to shoot. Help the youth hunter get comfortable with his or her firearm and teach them to safely carry and shoot it before ever hitting the woods.
“Don’t just get out of bed and go hunting,” said Balda. “Getting kids familiar with their guns makes them more confident and less nervous.”
Statewide bag limits and equipment restrictions apply during these hunting opportunities just like other seasons. Kentucky’s hunter orange clothing law is also in effect for all hunters during the free youth deer weekend. For detailed regulations, check the 2009-10 Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide, available online at fw.ky.gov and wherever licenses are sold.
With a little preparation and an eye on safety, the upcoming free youth seasons are perfect opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors together during Christmas vacation.