Age limit for youth hunting licenses in Illinois raised from 16 to 18

Posted by David Blanchette, on Jan 14th 2016

More people will be able to obtain a youth hunting license in Illinois when an amendment to an existing law takes effect this month.

The maximum age to obtain a youth hunting license in Illinois will be 18 when 2016 Illinois hunting licenses go on sale Monday. That's up from the previous age of 16, the cap since January 2014 when the Youth Hunting License law first took effect. A youth hunting license now authorizes anyone age 18 and under to hunt without having first passed a safety course as long as the youth hunts with a licensed adult hunter who is 21 years of age or older.

“The loss of young hunters to other activities has been a concern nationwide,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young said. “The youth license provides youth with the opportunity to try the sport of hunting prior to committing to taking the hunter safety course.”

State law requires that anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, must present proof they have successfully completed a valid Illinois Hunter Education Program before they may apply for an Illinois hunting license. Those obtaining a youth hunting license will still need to complete a hunter education program if they wish to continue hunting at age 19 or older.

A total of 12,703 youth hunting licenses were issued to youths by DNR in 2015. Seventeen-year-old Kaitlin Schulte of Franklin in Morgan County, who hunts duck, deer, turkey and squirrel with her father, is one of them.

“I've been hunting since I was about 5, and it's something that I can do with my dad. It's just fun to get out and enjoy the outdoors,” Schulte said. “When you're outside hunting, you learn a lot more than sitting inside watching TV or playing video games.”

“The first time my dad took me deer hunting ... we were out in a deer stand and it was a little cold,” Schulte said. “I was getting ready to ask him if we could leave because I was freezing. But then he said, 'Let's just wait about 30 more minutes.' And about 15 minutes later, out walks this doe, my dad shoots it, and he lets me track it. That made me really excited about going hunting and getting to enjoy things with my dad like that.”

Regarding the new maximum age of 18 for youth hunting licenses, Schulte said, “I do like that a lot, because I think that when you're younger, you get more opportunity to try hunting and see if you like it and want to continue doing it when you are older.”
Hunting organizations like Ducks Unlimited are also pleased with the change.

“Any time we can increase hunting opportunities for young hunters to experience the outdoors, the whole hunting community benefits,” said Jim King, Ducks Unlimited senior regional director for central Illinois.

The legislation to raise the youth hunting license cap to 18 was sponsored by Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton. It passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a 109-3 vote during the 2015 legislative session, and was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in August.

“Hunting is big tourism for downstate communities, it brings a lot of money in. But it's also about family,” Rose said. “A lot of parents take their kids out hunting. Ultimately, it’s about trying to get our kids in the outdoors more.”

Costello noted studies showing "that the biggest fall-off for youth hunters happens when they reach ages 16 to 18."

Of the 21 hunting accidents recorded in Illinois in 2014 by DNR, the latest year for which full data is available, two involved hunters 18 years of age and under. In one, an 18-year-old hunter accidentally shot and wounded another hunter, and the other incident occurred when a 15-year-old hunter fell and broke a leg while leaving a tree stand.
The requirements for adult hunting licenses and Illinois fishing and trapping licenses remain unchanged in 2016.

By David Blanchette,