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C.A.S.H. Letters to the Editor > 2007

C.A.S.H. Letters

CT - Taking kids hunting

09/11/07

To The Editor:

The recent article in which a father accompanied his son on an illegal bear hunt in Ontario exposed much of what is wrong with the sport of hunting and those who practice it. Whether it is trespassing upon private property, spotlighting deer, hunting out of season, or crossing international borders to hunt illegally, there are few things it seems that will stop a hunter from luring their children into following in their bloody footsteps.

It is tragic when a child considers it “a lot of fun" to slaughter a bear. While most parents encourage their children to engage in baseball, soccer, music lessons or other constructive activities, there is a small percentage of parents who risk the lives of their children by taking them on hunting trips.

Hunters often use doctored statistics to “prove” that hunting is safe, but how safe can a sport be when the object is to kill your opponent? In a random sampling of 190 hunting accidents that took place during calendar year 2006, more than eighteen percent victimized children aged eighteen and younger. These statistics are rarely cited by hunting organizations but the dangers are real.

Hunting agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Natural Resources Wildlife Division use children as pawns in their scheme to increase participation in hunting. Because the division is funded through the fees collected from hunting licenses and the excise tax on weapons and ammunition, it must lure children into its violent world if it is to remain financially solvent and continue to exploit wildlife well into the future.

Rather than destroying their natural affinity to animals, children should be encouraged to engage in outdoor activities that respect nature, such as camping, hiking, and wildlife watching. Much to the chagrin of the weapons and hunting industries which profit from the slaughter of wildlife, wildlife watching is the dominant form of wildlife-related outdoor recreation in the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 38,000 people aged 16 and older in Connecticut hunted in 2006, while almost twenty-eight times as many people (1,063,000) observed, fed, and photographed wildlife in their natural habitat. Hunting is clearly an unpopular hobby that is becoming more unpopular every year.

The future of wildlife management lies in wildlife watching programs which can support an economy that far surpasses the current one dependent on weapons and violence. Let’s repeal the tax on weapons and ammunition and replace it with one on items such as binoculars, backpacks, and other outdoor-related equipment used by wildlife watchers. Funds collected from these taxes can be dedicated toward the preservation of wildlife and the areas where they live, making the need to depend on hunting obsolete.

The time has come to change the way wildlife is managed and to stop our children from becoming pawns of the weapons industry. To protect wildlife and the areas where they live while simultaneously promoting a more peaceful world, please visit www.cashwildwatch.org.

Joe Miele, Vice President
Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting


Ellington boy, 10, shoots bear, controversy ensues--Teaching life skills or teaching violence
By: Karine Abalyan , Journal Inquirer

09/11/2007

ELLINGTON - Michael Spielman, 10, sat still in the woods for nearly five hours, waiting.

He was beginning to lose hope. But as the evening set in, a black bear appeared.
Wasting no time, the boy shot the animal with his Remington rifle.

The injured bear growled and headed for Michael, prompting him to shoot twice more before the animal collapsed.
Later, Michael stopped to admire his work and pose for pictures with the bear's carcass.

"I was just amazed," he said. "The second I pulled that trigger, it was so cool."

Michael, an Ellington resident, has been hunting with his father, Jim Spielman, for three years.

He said the hunting trip this month to Ontario, Canada, during which he shot the 210-pound bear, was his biggest adventure yet.

"It was just a lot of fun," he said.

Jim Spielman, who also learned to hunt when he was a boy, said the pastime instills discipline and shows his son that "there's more to life than drugs."

"A 10-year-old killing a bear in Canada is an everyday occurrence," he said. "It's not nearly as dangerous as you'd think."

But in Ontario, a non-resident must be at least 16 to be eligible for a hunting license.

While minors can accompany adults to the camp, "it's obviously not acceptable" for them to use guns, said Peter Carter, a biologist at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Carter said officers visit camps regularly, and offenders can face up to $25,000 in fines and a year in prison.

"We do take that seriously," he said, adding that few people violate the rules.

Jim Spielman said he was unaware he was breaking the law when he allowed his 10-year-old to shoot the bear.

"Maybe we made a mistake," he said, adding that he wouldn't have gone to Ontario had he known it was illegal.

Instead, he said, he might have taken his son to Maine, where a kid Michael's age can apply for a junior hunting license and shoot animals in the presence of older, more experienced hunters.

Hunting groups say teaching children to hunt while they are young imparts key life skills and helps develop an appreciation for nature.

As the number of people buying hunting licenses decreases nationwide, supporters say nature conservation programs - funded mostly by hunters' fees - may be at risk.

But critics argue that hunting is a violent sport and worry that handing young kids guns may be a step in the wrong direction.

In Connecticut, a child can get a junior license and begin hunting at age 12, though bears are off limits here.

Junior hunters, those ages 12 to 15, must be supervised by a licensed hunter who is at least 18 years old. Like all new hunters, juniors have to take a 16-hour course on safety, ethics, and other topics.

Dale May, director of wildlife at the Department of Environmental Protection, said it is hard to draw the line at a certain age. He said a well-trained 10-year-old may be as fit to shoot an animal as someone two years older. But ultimately, May said, he feels "comfortable" with Connecticut's laws on youth hunting.

While accident figures weren't readily available, May said he doesn't recall serious injuries among junior hunters in recent years.

"In Connecticut certainly that young group is extremely safe," he said.

Connecticut's program for young hunters isn't unique.

Most states take a similar approach, phasing kids into the sport once they turn 12, said Tony Aeschliman, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The Newtown-based organization supports kids' hunting although Aeschliman said "it's really up to the parent" to decide when a child is mature enough to handle the responsibility.

"It teaches a child to be patient," Aeschliman said. "It teaches them respect for firearms."

For Michael, the activity is a chance to bond with his father. The fifth-grader said spending time in the woods with his dad is one reason he enjoys hunting.

"My dad taught me pretty much everything I know," he said.

That includes handling weapons and making bullets.

The Spielmans said they made about 60 bullets in preparation for the trip to Canada using special machinery in their home.

Michael also likes the excitement when he hunts and says most of his friends think "it's cool."

Not everyone agrees, however.

Some say romanticizing hunting and teaching kids to wield guns has negative consequences.

"The last thing North America needs is another child wedded to the idea that violence is a recreation," said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, an advocacy organization headquartered in Darien.

Young people introduced to the sport, Feral said, are likely to become "insensitive adults."

"More and more people don't want children to be taught violence in any form," said Julie Lewin, founder and president of the National Institute for Animal Advocacy in Guilford.

Lewin said it's a bad idea to teach a new generation of Americans to load guns and fire weapons. She stressed, however, that she wasn't suggesting that a young person trained to hunt will necessarily engage in violence against people.

"It's astounding ... at this point in history that a family would maintain this tradition," she said.

Animal-rights advocates also worry that people like the Spielmans are making it unnecessarily difficult for animals to co-exist with a burgeoning human population.

"We're displacing animals of the habitat they need to eke out their own living," Feral said.

Pursuing already vulnerable species compounds the problem, she said, adding that 1 percent of Connecticut's population hunts.

But government agencies say hunting is a controlled activity that helps fund much-needed nature conservation efforts. Without hunters' fees, it would be difficult to support research, habitat improvement programs, and other projects, May said.

Various licensing fees and a federal tax on firearms and ammunition make up more than 80 percent of the budget at the DEP's Wildlife Division, May said.

The agency also receives state and federal grants, but those are harder to come by.

Although the number of junior hunters in Connecticut has risen in recent years, May said, it hasn't caught up with the number of people leaving the sport.

"If we lose that revenue, I'm not sure who would step up" and support conservation, he said.

May added that hunting can help in the management of wildlife populations.

Jim Spielman said the trip to Canada cost more than $2,000.

Part of the money went to licensing and equipment and part was to hire a Massachusetts-based company to guide the Spielmans in Ontario and help bait the bears.

Michael put in $500 of his own savings toward the project. He worked at his father's driving range, the East Hartford Golf Center on Hillside Avenue, to earn the money.

The Spielmans say they donated the bear's meat to a Canadian food pantry. They plan to mount the rest of the animal in their basement.

"It's the hunters that donate" money for wildlife conservation, Jim Spielman said. "We're taxed on everything that we buy."

But Lewin said she doubts the DEP uses this money for conservation or responsible wildlife management.

She said the agency sometimes does the opposite, creating unnecessarily large populations of animals, like wild turkeys, to keep hunting alive.

To the Spielmans that's a good thing.

The father-son team has no plans to give up the age-old tradition anytime soon.

In two years, Jim Spielman said he expects Michael to obtain a state license. Deer hunting might be Michael's next challenge.

"It's something that's been done for thousands of years by man, and it's something that's going to be done whether they like it or not," Jim Spielman said.

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