Harrison Cote, 7, shows off his first grouse with his dad, James Cote. James Cote was among those who fought for a 2015 law that eliminated the minimum age for hunting in Maine. This was the first time he got the chance to enjoy that new law while hunting with one of his sons. Credit: Courtesy of James Cote

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to represent the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance on LD 156, An Act to Lower the Eligibility Age for a Junior Hunting License, sponsored by former state Rep. Gary Hilliard of Belgrade. The bill, also referred to as the Families Afield program, had been adopted by numerous other states, with a goal of breaking down barriers and attracting newcomers to the pursuit of hunting. The legislation aims to do this by allowing parents to decide when their child is ready to hunt, rather than enforcing an arbitrary hunting age, which in Maine was 10 years old.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly in both the Maine House and Senate, and was signed into law by the Governor in June of 2015.

There was only one problem at the time: My oldest son, Harrison, was only 2 years old, and my youngest son, Emmett, wasn’t going to be born for another four weeks. This dad was going to have to wait a while before he would be able to enjoy hunting with his sons.

Which brings us to just a couple weeks ago. My son Harrison, now 7 years old (almost 8), was interested in taking a ride to our camp to find his first partridge.

We had done some shooting with his youth model .410 shotgun over the summer. I had been impressed with his accuracy and caution around firearms, always under my instruction and supervision.

Eager to spend a day in the October woods, my wife and I packed up the two boys with a cooler full of snacks, and headed north to camp. It was a beautiful day, cool and sunny. We decided to ride the gravel roads to find a fitting bird for Harrison’s first. Harrison eventually switched seats in the truck and sat up front with me, while my wife Bethany and Emmett sat in back.

It didn’t take long to find a group of partridge. The first road we traveled we found a group of six, sitting under a stand of fir trees. We stopped the truck, and I guided Harrison to help him take careful aim. But alas, the birds were skittish and began to run, and Harrison experienced something we all do as hunters: a miss.

But hunting is about keeping your chin up, being patient, and never giving up. And so we didn’t. We saw several more birds and had one more miss, when we decided to head to camp to enjoy our lunch.

Now, camp is a pretty special place to me already. I love being remote, sitting beside a wood stove under the humming of propane lights. No TV, no laptop, it’s where I go to put my mind at ease and enjoy the most important things in life — family, friends and the outdoors.

But as we made our way up our camp road, I suddenly realized that maybe camp would become even more special. We were about to make a great family memory.

Two birds were sitting about 50 yards from the truck when we turned a corner, and Harrison recognized them right away. He and I jumped out of the truck, me carrying his shotgun, and began our approach. He was cautious and quiet. As we got closer to the birds I placed his shotgun in his arms, making sure his position was safe, and that he was mindful of his safety and aim.

The two birds that we had initially seen moved into the alders, and as we were searching to find them some movement on the hill to my right caught my eye. A third bird was walking slowly away from us, not 10 yards away. I pointed this out to Harrison and he slowly turned to take aim. A few seconds later he pulled the trigger, and the bird fell, just before taking flight. He had done it!

And not only had he shot his first bird, he shot his first bird on our camp road. We enjoyed a few family hugs and high fives, and even his 5-year-old brother Emmett told Harrison he was proud of him. That afternoon we enjoyed a great lunch at camp, and later that day Harrison enjoyed his first meal of his own first partridge.

This is exactly the outcome that the Families Afield program seeks to achieve. A safe, happy, and successful first hunting experience, and hopefully, a new lifelong hunter.

And the first time I really got to enjoy the fruits of my labor on LD 156.

James Cote, Outdoors contributor

James Cote is a government affairs consultant who successfully managed the 2014 bear referendum and has represented numerous hunting, angling, and trapping organizations in Maine and across the country....