With the upcoming Youth Hunting Days approaching, Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl Roe said it is important for adult hunters to understand the difference between hunts for juniors and the Mentored Youth Hunting Program for unlicensed youth, which has been expanded for 2011-12 through a recent change in law and regulations to include antlerless deer hunting.

This recent addition to the MYHP was made possible by Senate Bill 274, which was sponsored by Senate Game and Fisheries Committee Chairman Richard Alloway II, and signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, June 24. Once the law was changed, the PGC board of game commissioners enacted regulatory changes to add antlerless deer beginning with the 2011-12 seasons.

Because of printing deadlines, the "2011-12 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations," which is provided with the purchase of each hunting license, contains information on Page 15 of the digest stating that antlerless deer are not legal quarry for the MYHP. This wording is out of date and incorrect.

For deer, the mentored youth must use legal sporting arms for that season; for example, a bow or crossbow must be used during archery antlered deer season. Also, those youths participating in the MYHP are required to follow the same antler restrictions as a junior license holder, which is one antler of three or more inches in length or one antler with at least two points.

In order to take an antlerless deer, an adult mentor may transfer a valid antlerless license issued to him or her to an eligible mentored youth upon the harvest of an antlerless deer, and a mentored youth may only receive one antlerless deer license each license year. The antlerless deer license transferred to the mentored youth must be for the Wildlife Management Unit in which the adult mentor and youth are hunting.

All youth participating in the MYHP must obtain a $2.70 permit through the PGC Pennsylvania Automated License System. Of that fee, $1 goes to the agency, $1 goes to the issuing agent who processes the permit application and 70 cents goes to the company managing PALS.

"When we first started the MYHP, we didn't require a permit because there was no method available to issue a permit without creating an enormous obstacle for participants," Roe said. "PALS provides an easy method for parents to obtain a MYHP permit without too many difficulties.

"This enables the agency to gather data about the level of participation in this program, which can be used to assist in better planning and scheduling our basic Hunter-Trapper Education courses. This database of MYHP participants will let us know when young hunters are 11 years of age, and where they live, so that we can make sure the number of courses we are offering will meet the expected demand."

To continue hunting once a youth reaches the age of 12, they will need to and pass a basic Hunter-Trapper Education course and purchase either a junior hunting license or a junior combination license. Listings of HTE courses are posted on the PGC website at www.pgc.state.pa.us [1].

Roe said that from the outset the logic behind the MYHP was simply and clearly to create expanded youth hunting opportunities without compromising safety afield. Under the program, a mentor is defined as a properly licensed individual at least 21 years of age, who will serve as a guide to a youth while engaged in hunting or related activities, such as scouting, learning firearms or hunter safety and wildlife identification.

A mentored youth is identified as an unlicensed individual less than 12 years of age who is accompanied by a mentor while engaged in hunting or related activities. Mentored youth can participate during any established season for groundhogs, squirrels, spring gobbler, coyotes and antlered and antlerless deer.

In addition to being able to participate during the general squirrel season and spring gobbler seasons, mentored youth also may hunt during the junior-only squirrel season – October 8-15 and junior-only spring gobbler day April 23. Junior seasons for rabbits and pheasants, are not included in the MYHP, as these are not done from the required stationary position.

Regulations require that the mentor-to-mentored youth ratio be one-to-one, and that the pair possesses just one sporting arm when hunting. While moving, the sporting arm must be carried by the mentor, and when the pair reaches a stationary hunting location, the mentor may turn over possession of the sporting arm to the youth and must keep the youth within arm's length at all times.

"Since 2006, Pennsylvania's hunters have been taking advantage of a remarkable opportunity to introduce those under the age of 12 to hunting through the Mentored Youth Hunting Program," Roe said. "Hunting is deeply woven into the cultural fabric that is Pennsylvania, and it is important that we recruit new hunters to carry on this tradition.

"This program paves the way for youngsters to nurture their interest in hunting early and allows them to take a more active role in actual hunting while afield with mentoring adults. The program accommodates hands-on use of sporting arms and can promote a better understanding and interest in hunting and wildlife conservation that will help to assure hunting's future, as well as reinforce the principles of hunting safely through the close supervision provided by dedicated mentors."

Both the mentor and the youth must abide by any fluorescent orange regulations, and the mentored youth must tag and report any deer or spring gobbler taken. As part of the MYHP permit, youth will be provided the necessary tags for antlered deer and spring gobbler, but must use the adult mentor's antlerless deer tag.

MYHP participants who take an antlered deer or a spring gobbler must file their report within five days, however, an adult mentor must report any antlerless deer license used by a mentored youth within 10 days. Reports may be made by using the PGC online harvest reporting system by calling toll-free (1-855-724-8681) or they can submit a harvest report card, which is available as inserts in the "2011-12 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations."?