From the Kinston Free Press:
New hunting legislation will snap the barrier for wildlife newcomers.
The Hunting Heritage Apprentice Program, established under House Bill 296, was announced at the Neuse Sport Shop Friday. The program distributes a privilege permit, allowing those 16 and older to purchase a hunting license without completing North Carolina’s hunter’s education requirement.
Once the permit is obtained, the person can buy a license but can only hunt within sight or sound of an authorized hunter.
The Neuse Sport Shop is a licensed wildlife service agent with the ability to sell hunting licenses.
N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission officials and the bill’s co-sponsor, N.C. Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, attended a press conference at the popular store to publicize the permit program beginning July 1.
“It faced no opposition in the House and no opposition in the Senate,” Bell said. “It’s a bipartisan bill, and I’m very glad to be a part of it.”
He said the permit option would heighten the thrill of hunting for those who live in rural and metropolitan areas.
“Not only was it an honor to work with the Wildlife Commission to get this bill done,” Bell said, “but it was exciting for me. I grew up in the outdoors; I grew up hunting with my dad.”
Bell anticipates the bill will build stronger family relationships and boost the state’s economic impact.
According to Mallory Martin, the chief deputy director with the Wildlife Commission, North Carolina has a multi-billion dollar hunting and fishing industry. It rakes in an annual $3.3 billion in direct spending for the state.
Martin said there has been a decline in per capita rates among the hunting population over the last two years.
“The passage of the Hunting Heritage Apprentice Permit is a step towards increasing that participation and that opportunity,” he said. “We wanted to do this (at the Neuse Sport Shop) because it’s the peak time for purchasing hunting licenses.”
The Wildlife Commission will not charge for the permit, but the apprentice must buy a license. With the permit, they can bypass hunter’s education courses and participate with an adult mentor.
The permit will be valid for the term of the license, and officials expect hunting activity to increase.
“We’re probably going to see more interest as we get closer to a more active hunting season,” said Geoff Cantrell, Wildlife Commission public information officer. “This is really a good avenue to not only get people in the outdoors, but to get them into hunting education, so that safety message is there.”
During the event, speakers reiterated safety as a component of the program.
Dale Caverny, the Wildlife Commission chief of the division of law enforcement, presented protection features of Hunting Heritage extracted from a five-state data system: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia.
However, 34 states have already implemented a comparable hunting program, with more than one million apprentice hunting permits issued in those states since 2004.
“During that time, there’s not been a significant rise of negligence-related hunting accidents or overall hunting related injuries,” Caverny said.
Data showed people were eager to enroll in a hunter’s education course after their apprenticeship. Nearly 90 percent of participants in the aforementioned five states were likely to recommend the program to someone who wanted to learn hunting. Between 27 and 61 percent purchased a valid license after completing Hunting Heritage.
“What this does is reduce a barrier for someone to go out there and legally hunt in their area,” said Russell Rhodes, president of Neuse Sport Shop. “We think it’s a balance of safety first and then lowering the boundary to entry, and isn’t it great to have legislators that see the importance of that inclined with a well-balanced bill that allows us to have it.”