Youth as young as 10 could legally hunt in South Dakota under a measure that will be scheduled for debate Thursday in the state House of Representatives.

The current minimum age to get a hunting license is 12, although kids of any age may currently hunt on their own property.

HB1263 would let 10-year-olds hunt small game, such as pheasants, on an adult's license, said Rep. Mike Buckingham, R-Rapid City. The adult, typically a father, would have to be with the child as a mentor, he said.

The twosome could have only one daily limit of small game, Buckingham said.

The bill, which cleared the House Agriculture Committee 10-2 on Tuesday, also would allow 10-year-olds to shoot big game, such as deer, turkeys or antelope.

"Game, Fish and Parks (department) will create a mentor license that is issued to the adult to be shot by the youth in the presence of the adult mentor," Buckingham explained.

Mentors would have to take hunter-safety courses before their 10-year-olds could hunt, he said.

Opponents argue that 10 is too young to hunt. They said 10-year-olds are not physically and emotionally ready to be toting rifles and shotguns.

Bill Pearson, who teaches hunter safety courses in Sioux Falls, said more than half of his young students have never handled guns before. And he said many of those that have gone hunting with their parents have picked up bad habits.

"You'd be surprised how these kids hold a gun, or how they've been taught," he said in opposition to the legislation.

Tony Leif, GF&P wildlife director, said he believes 10-year-olds can hunt safely under provisions of HB1263.

"It is our feeling that they are capable of being mentored in the field," he said.

"This is not a bill to allow 10-year-olds to go hunting. This is a bill to allow a mentored partnership to be created, to be allowed in the field," Leif added.