Gov. Brandstad signs Iowa apprentice hunting legislation into law

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A bill that makes Iowa the 36th state to adopt the Families Afield program that promotes the use of apprentice hunting licenses to bring new sportsmen into the field was signed into law last week.

The legislation, which allows for youth under the age of 16 to hunt for two seasons with a mentor without having to go through a formal (and state required) hunter's education course, is likened by supporters as a "try it before you buy it" program. Introduced on March 4, it passed the Senate in a unanimous vote two weeks later then sailed through the House by a 99-0 roll call on March 24 in a strong show of bipartisan support.

“Iowans who want to expand their outdoor activities to include hunting will see a real benefit from this legislation,” said state Senator David Johnson, Co-Chair of the Iowa Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and member of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee. “Similar legislation in other states has proved successful. It’s vital that we introduce a new generation to the many benefits of managing wildlife through hunting and fishing.”

The measure, SF 392, uses the Families Afield model of cooperative effort pioneered by such groups as the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation to help increase the number of new hunters. Since 2005, no less than 35 adopting states have issued a staggering 1.4 million apprentice licenses to interested youth, many of which in turn became avid sportsmen.

According to data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys, the number of hunters in Iowa has declined by nearly 30,000 people in the past quarter century.

The legislation met with wide support from gun rights and pro-hunting organizations and very little opposition.

The only lobbying group to come out against the legislation was the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club while the National Rifle Association, Iowa Firearms Coalition, Iowa Sportsman's Alliance, and the U.S. Sportsman's Alliance officially supported it. The state Department of Natural Resources weighed in as neutral to the proposal.

"Lengthy hunter education requirements often discourage potential hunters from going afield because they are unwilling to dedicate the necessary time to complete the course in order to pursue an activity that they are simply trying out," said an analysis from the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action on the measure. "Eventually, the goal is for these apprentices to complete a hunter education course so they can hunt on their own, which has largely been the case in the states with similar programs."

The new Iowa law becomes effective July 1-- just in time for hunting season.