How to Give Hunting a Brighter Future — Part I started our conversation on the troubling numbers when it comes to youth hunting participation.
Kids are the future of everything — and that certainly includes hunting. As is the case with some other activities, getting them involved when they’re young is key.
If they’re anything like me, they’ll then be hooked and enjoy it even more with every hunt. I started hunting with my dad when I was 5 years old and have been hunting ever since. It became my passion.
I believe it has taught me many life lessons and has kept me out of trouble. Athletics are great, but hunting is something you can do for a lifetime.
But as noted last month, the number of kids who hunt is lagging. According to online information posted by the support group Families Afield (familiesafield.org), for every 100 adult hunters today, only 69 are coming up to take their place.
If this continues, economic projections indicate, funding for wildlife conservation could drop 25 percent by 2025. This decline could cause a 24 percent drop in revenue for the hunting industry.
“Hunting is one of the safest recreational activities enjoyed by families in the United States,” the group adds. “Mentored youths have the fewest accidents of all hunters. Nearly 80 percent of adult hunters started hunting as youths. More youth restrictions equal less hunting by youths, as well as their parents.”
There has been a recent rise in some aspects of recreation related to hunting. One of these is archery. Its promotion through such movies as the Hunger Games series, Brave and The Avengers has put the idea of shooting a bow into the minds of millions of kids.
And initiatives such as the National Archery in Schools Program and Scholastic 3-D Archery have provided a way for many kids to act upon this newfound interest. It’s only natural that some use this introduction as a portal into bowhunting.
Most U.S. states have passed youth-friendly hunting legislation since 2004, when lobbying efforts by Families Afield and the National Shooting Sports Foundation began creating new opportunities for young hunters.
Giving parents/guardians a break on license fees and allowing kids a chance to fill tags before wildlife gets too pressured by the regular season likely have helped.
According to sportsmenslink.org, “The apprentice hunting license is a tool for recruitment that provides youth and adult novice hunters the opportunity to hunt under the supervision of a licensed hunter before they have completed their hunter education course. In essence, the apprentice license allows potential hunters to ‘try before they buy,’ which makes entry into the sport less challenging for new recruits. These programs allow apprentice hunters to receive hands-on experience and provide additional incentive to complete a formal hunter education course.
“In some states, an apprentice hunting license is part of a mentored hunter program. As of 2015, 39 states had passed some type of apprentice license, and more than 1,400,000 such licenses have been sold nationwide.”
GETTING A GOOD START
As a 19-year-old hunter, my goal is to get as many other people as possible involved in the outdoors. But while I’m all for kids getting into hunting at a young age, they must be properly prepared and get solid hands-on instruction.
What’s the right age at which to start hunting? The law can dictate a minimum age, of course — but beyond that, no one age is right for everyone. Parents or guardians must decide what’s best.
My little sister, Adrianna, and I each started when we were 5. At first, our dad took us along to watch him hunt. Once we’d practiced shooting and developed an appreciation for what we were doing, he started us off by letting us hunt squirrels.
This was a huge learning experience in itself — and still one of the most fun, in my opinion.
After that, we worked our way up to turkeys and whitetails. We each shot our first deer and turkeys at age 6. Now that we’re in our teens, we’ve not only continued to hunt familiar game here in Illinois but also have traveled to hunt black bears, mountain lions, antelope, mule deer and elk.
Again, it all began with hunting squirrels around home.
As you prepare for the day you’ll take a child hunting for his or her first time, remember three key essentials:
(1) Impress upon the child that everything always must be done safely, legally and ethically.
(2) Be sure you’ve helped them develop adequate gun/bow skills. These include safe handling of gear and practicing enough to ensure a clean shot.
(3) Teach an appreciation for the outdoors and all it has to offer. A new hunter needs to realize the direct link between conservation and hunting. After all, we hunters are the biggest conservationists.
SENDING THE RIGHT MESSAGE
The best mentoring programs focus not only on physical skills but the other aspects of hunting. For example, consider the message conveyed via the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website.
The agency has a youth hunting program whose stated goals include: upholding the hunting heritage for present and future generations; promoting the highest ethical standards in hunting; giving our youth an initial positive, safe, educational, mentored hunting experience; teaching the basic skills, values, techniques and responsibilities of hunting; instilling in youth a basic understanding of practical conservation measures; and promoting and encouraging wildlife habitat access, enhancement and management.
These are goals I believe each of us should strive to achieve in mentoring new hunters.
Not all kids are the same. Some are naturally interested in hunting and even more ready to go afield than adults are. Others must be convinced to go. But once they experience success, they’re usually hooked.
From my own experience and that of taking my sister along, here are some ideas on making a hunt more enjoyable.First, kids usually like to move around a lot; it’s not very fun for them if they must stay completely still for hours. My dad always put my sister and me in a brushed-in ground blind.
We’d sit on the ground out of sight until it got time to get serious about the hunt. If we wanted to nap until prime time, Dad would let us, because then we’d be still and quiet. He always brought plenty of snacks and water, too.
One of my favorite things to do was whittle on a stick with my dad’s pocketknife while waiting for wildlife to move.
Another thing that makes a hunt more enjoyable for everyone — especially kids — is to keep insects at bay. If mosquitoes are bad, be sure to bring a ThermaCELL. If ticks are an issue, spray down clothing and gear with the right repellent.
No one likes being bitten by bugs, especially with some of them being capable of spreading illness.
Also, it’s important that kids have warm clothing. When I was still small enough to need youth sizes in hunting apparel there weren’t a lot of options, especially for girls. Now there’s more of a variety of styles and brands, so it’s easier to find what’s best for each child.
Another tip is to make sure the weather is decent whenever you take a kid. Freezing out isn’t fun and can make a child dread the next hunt.
It’s also smart to keep those first hunts short. And if they can be full of action, that’s a plus. You don’t want the experience to be boring. A kid’s introduction to hunting needs to be positive. Make the hunting experience all about them — and don’t take it too seriously yourself.
REPLACING THE MISSING
Although most kids start hunting by going afield with a parent or grandparent, not every family contains an obvious mentor. So some programs provide one.
One program that’s made a real difference for many children is the Sportsmen’s Alliance’s Trailblazer Adventure Program. This is reportedly the largest program of its kind.
Through it, seasoned sportsmen and wildlife professionals provide hands-on firearm safety lessons, fishing instruction, archery programs, trapping demonstrations and more. There’s even an option to volunteer at this program’s events online. It’s a great way to get others involved in the outdoors.
Accoding to Brian Lynn, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Sportsmen’s Alliance, “The Trailblazer Adventure Program began in 2001 as a way to introduce youth and their families to the outdoor lifestyle.
In particular, it sought to introduce urban/suburban families who normally wouldn’t be exposed to hunting, fishing and trapping to those endeavors.
“To date, more than 1.8 million youth and their families have participated in Trailblazer programming at state wildlife expos, Cabela’s stores, Boy Scout jamborees and other group events. We’ve put a rod and reel and a BB gun in their hands and exposed them to other outdoor activities. That’s 1.8 million people who have had a positive introduction and experience with outdoor endeavors.
“We need to create the next generation of outdoorsmen,” Lynn continues.
“But another aspect, and part of what Trailblazer hopes to accomplish, is that even if some kids don’t become hunters, trappers or even anglers, if they have a positive experience trying those activities and understand them to a degree, they won’t be automatically predisposed to animal-rights activism. They can question those claims and, hopefully, are easier to convince to vote for wildlife management issues that favor outdoorsmen.”
Fathers in the Field is another organization helping boys who don’t have fathers or father figures in their lives.
Its mission is “to rekindle and establish the spirit of boys who have been abandoned by their fathers; mentoring them one-on-one in life skills through outdoor activities, and by sharing a Christian understanding of our Heavenly Father’s love and sacrifice for His children.”
This program works to achieve the important goals of faith, fatherhood and forgiveness. I feel this is very important and much needed by boys without fathers in their lives. This will get the boys interested in the outdoors, which then will occupy their free time. Hopefully this will get them moving down the right path and keep them on it.
Taking a child hunting isn’t about getting the biggest buck in the woods. See hunting through their eyes and remember back to your own first experiences in hunting. Taking them will teach even more patience, as you have to keep them still and quiet. Most of all, I feel, it’s about building a future in which hunting remains alive and well.