We hunters know that introducing our beloved heritage to newcomers, at any age, is essential to maintaining the future of hunting. Thankfully, programs such as the NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge and NRA-backed Families Afield have made significant headway in encouraging states to create some form of an apprentice hunting license, providing novice youth and adult individuals an opportunity to hunt with an experienced, licensed mentor before completing a hunter education course.
Sherry Crumley, former board member of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), emphasized that assisting with the institution of the apprentice license in 2008 was one of her proudest achievements while serving. According to Crumley, apprentice licenses are beneficial for the following reasons.
• Individuals are not required to take a hunter education course to purchase an apprentice license. Many people are hesitant to commit the time to enroll in a hunter safety class but are still very curious about hunting. This allows them to “try-before-you-buy.”
• Apprentice licenses are relatively inexpensive. For example, in Virginia they cost $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents.
• Individuals 18 years of age and older with a valid hunting license may act as an adult mentor. During Crumley’s time on the Virginia board, members lowered the age requirement for mentors from 21 to 18. This enables more siblings who are older to mentor younger family members and high school and college friends to mentor younger peers. Be sure to check your state’s age requirement for being a mentor.
• Apprentice hunters must be accompanied and directly supervised by a licensed hunter. Crumley maintains that this stipulation brings in the mentorship factor, which is critical in ensuring the new hunter will not only be successful but gain knowledge of hunting safety and ethics.
• Apprentice licenses are valid for up to two years, depending on the state. “So many things can negatively impact a hunting season,” Crumley continued, “from bad weather to scheduling conflicts. The two-year license gives apprentice hunters enough time to get out in the field and experience success, all without having to purchase a standard hunting license or attend a hunter education course.”
• Apprentice license holders can participate in youth hunting opportunities such as youth hunting days/weekends. This gives apprentice hunters the opportunity to hunt unpressured game, increasing their odds of success.
• Guidelines are given to mentors that encourage them to emphasize the necessity of good sportsmanship, the quality of the hunting experience and the need to obey all game laws.
• Apprentice hunters may complete a hunter education course and purchase a regular license at any point during their two-year period as apprentices.
• Apprentice license holders still must complete a hunter education course in order to continue hunting, as the license is non-renewable. Mentors have the opportunity to explain the benefits of completing a hunter education course.
Lee Walker, outreach director for the Virginia Game Department, believes the state’s apprentice license program has been a huge success. “Recruiting new hunters is essential to maintaining Virginia’s long and popular hunting heritage,” Walker said. “The apprentice hunting license is one of many effective mentoring programs offered by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The main benefit of the program is that it encourages people, both young and old, to give the sport a try without having completed a hunter education course.”
Apprentice licenses have proven to be a superlative tool for state game departments in increasing the number of new hunters. According to Walker, an average of 4,000 people have purchased an apprentice license each year since 2008 in Virginia. “The apprentice license has had an excellent impact on our hunting recruitment efforts and has helped to slow the decline in hunting license sales.”