WATERTOWN — As of Tuesday night, 12- and 13-year old hunters in Jefferson and Lewis counties can use guns or crossbows to hunt deer.
On Tuesday night, the two county Boards of Legislators passed local laws enacting the change unanimously after hearing no comments from the public.
Thanks to a pilot program included in the 2021-22 New York state budget, counties were able to pass a local law officially lowering the legal age for licensed hunters to use guns or crossbows while hunting deer. Before the laws passed, only hunters ages 14 and up were able to use those types of weapons to hunt.
The new law comes with some caveats. Young hunters must hunt with another licensed hunter over the age of 21, and both must wear high-visibility hunting gear at all times. The adult hunter must also be in “full control” of the child at all times — able to see the child and issue verbal commands when necessary.
Additionally, neither hunter will be able to use tree stands or other raised platforms.
The new law only applies for deer hunting — young hunters ages 12 and 13 are still restricted only to archery equipment while hunting bears.
“For nearly two decades, youth age 12 and 13 in New York have been safely hunting deer and bear with archery equipment and small game with firearms,” the state Department of Environmental Conservation stated in a news release about the pilot program. “Until now, New York was the only state that didn’t allow 12- and 13-year-olds to hunt big game with a firearm.”
The program will allow the young hunters to deer hunt with guns and crossbows until 2023. The state DEC will file annual reports tracking the number of violations, hunting-related accidents, as well as the number of counties participating, the number of minors participating and number of deer taken.
The state law officially went into effect Tuesday — the same day Jefferson and Lewis counties passed their laws.
Jefferson County legislators passed the local law without much discussion Tuesday evening, although as the legislation moved through the General Services Committee last month, many legislators expressed their support for the bill.
In Lewis County, legislators emphasized the importance of training and supervision for young hunters who are just getting into deer hunting before passing their resolution to adopt the new law.
Times staff writer Julie Abbass contributed to this report.