Ontario introduces new gun training program for youths

Ontario’s proposed new gun training program for children as young as age 12 will be a further way to teach them to hunt safely, said Brian Blomme of the Ministry of Natural Resources in Toronto.
The Hunter Apprenticeship Safety Program (HASP), if passed, is designed to enhance the existing Hunter Safety Program (HEP) by allowing kids a chance to safely develop their hunting skills while under the direct and immediate supervision of a “mentor.”
A “mentor” is considered any person over the age of 18 who is the holder of a valid licence to hunt the species of game being sought.
That person must provide direct supervision to the apprentice while hunting, which is described by the MNR as must being “close enough to the apprentice to be able to take action necessary to prevent him or her from doing anything that is unsafe or against the law.”
The MNR also encourages the “mentor,” who should have a wide range of hunting experience involving a variety of game, accompany the apprentice during the HEP course.
And that’s a good thing, said Shawn O’Donnell, president of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club, stressing he would like to see the parents or guardian take the course with the kids.
“I think it is a good thing for hunters everywhere, especially here in Northwestern Ontario,” O’Donnell said yesterday. “It really doesn’t change anything but it makes it more regulated.
“The OFAH has been pushing for this for the last 10 or 12 years. It’s a way to battle the anti-hunting [activists],” he added. “I think it’s a good thing that people have been asking about for a long time.”
While still in its introductory stage, O’Donnell said he doesn’t expect the program to be implemented until next year at the earliest.
Currently, kids aged 12 and over are allowed, under federal law, to possess and shoot a firearm. The proposed HASP hopes to give practical training to future hunters while under the supervision from an adult.
In essence, it wants to ensure youngsters know what they are doing while in possession of a firearm.
Anyone who is 12 years and older, and has successfully completed the HEP course and examination, may participate in the HASP. This is an optional program for new hunters aged 15 and over but is mandatory for qualified participants under 15.
The current HEP program has been in place for more than 30 years, and has resulted in a notable decrease in hunting-related incidents resulting in injury, the MNR said. It includes instruction on firearms and firearm handling, legal responsibilities, hunting ethics, wildlife identification and management, and survival skills.
Although the HEP has been considered “very successful,” the proposed HASP was considered a way to develop those skills outside of the classroom.
The MNR said this is simply a more formal method of an apprenticeship program, which has been a tradition in Northwestern Ontario for many years.
Still, the MNR is recommending the “mentor” take out the young hunter in a small hunting party. And the person is encouraged to involve the apprentice in all aspects of the hunt, from planning and packing to cleaning the game afterwards.
They also are asked to prepare for the hunt with outdoor walks and detailed talks of what to expect when they are out there.
Rick Socholotuk, who has taught the HEP program here to young hunters for the past four years, agreed it is imperative to have the “mentor” take the course along with the kids they are going to be taking out.
“Before, when I first looked at the program, I had trouble looking at 12-year-olds with a firearm,” he said. “But at the same time, I have seen a lot of grown-ups without the proper training, and that’s a big-time problem.”
Socholotuk said his biggest concern with the HASP program is the safety aspect.
“Safety is an attitude, and the ‘mentor’ and the youngster that are going out together have to have the same philosophy,” he stressed. “For this thing to operate properly and in order for it to fly, the ‘mentor’ has to be responsible.
“Personally, I’ve gone out and seen some really responsible 15-year-olds with good ‘mentors’ and I’ve also seen some really crazy stuff out there,” he added.
Socholotuk admitted he has yet to see the full proposal of the program but stressed it’s imperative it entails the necessary proponents of the proper teaching.
“The thing I have a problem with is that no one approached the instructors [of the HEP program] about the course,” he argued.
The following are MNR safety guidelines for first hunt:
•Be sure the apprentice is properly dressed for the day (don’t forget the Hunter Orange).
•Take time to enjoy the outdoors, and be sure to teach the apprentice there is more to hunting than a filled game bag. Sunsets, tracks in the snow, and the sounds of distant flocks of geese are worth a pause to enjoy.
•Match the apprentice to a firearm and game pursued. Do not expect an apprentice to shoot heavy loads in your full choke 12 gauge, or expect them to take ducks with a .410.
An open choked 20 gauge in one shell is a good starting point for most apprentices.
•Until the apprentice has some hunting experience, limit hunting by shooting from a fixed position where the target can be seen as it approaches you (i.e., ducks over decoys) to give the apprentice a better chance of success.
•Carry a camera to document the success of the apprentice.
For more information on the Hunter Apprenticeship Safety Program, call the local MNR office at 274-5337.