Quite a few NRA staff have already left for Mansfield, PA, where the 23rd NRA International Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) will be held July 28 – August 1. About 330 boys and girls with take part in this event, but in all, between 1,500 and 2,000 people will be on hand, including the volunteers, coaches, parents and other family members who are involved.
Even in a time when gas costs as much as champagne, and every day off is precious, many YHEC parents load up their whole families in a van, drive hundreds of miles, and spend their entire vacation at this annual event.
While they might not even realize it, these parents, coaches and volunteers are making a tremendous contribution to hunting—and serving as a model for the rest of us.
I base this on the findings of a new study, The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports, conducted by Responsive Management, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. This vitally important research addresses just about everything that affects hunter recruitment and retention. The study includes no less than 196 “action items” that can be taken by hunters, state and federal agencies, industry and hunting organizationsto reverse the trend of declining numbers of hunters.
A couple of the action items are:
“Be aware that higher avidity in hunting and shooting is linked to participation with other family members and friends who hunt and shoot. Initiation without immersion in the hunting and shooting culture usually ends in hunting and shooting cessation.”
“Be cognizant of the effect that urbanization and loss of rural land has on hunting and the shooting sports. Understand that urbanization causes a loss of rural people as well as a dilution to the hunting and shooting culture, a constituency and environment important for hunting and shooting initiation.”
I can’t say that everyone in YHEC is rural, but the hunting and shooting culture is alive and well in this group of people, and they are absolutely providing a “constituency and environment” where immersion in hunting can take place.
Leading up to YHEC, parents are involved in just about every aspect of the kids’ preparation: equipment selection and purchase; firearm instruction, transport to a range so the kids can practice, planning meetings, fundraising to get to the event in Mansfield, etc. And after YHEC is over, these parents and kids will hunt together. Through them, the hunting and shooting culture is strengthened, not diluted. These parents and kids will scout together before the season, hang tree stands together, drag bucks out of the woods together, process the deer and cook and eat the venison as a family.
These folks have no idea they are the living, breathing embodiment of an “action item,” but what they are doing is exactly the kind of thing The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports calls for. What they do through YHEC helps hunting—and it’s not bad for families, either.
At the risk of boring you with a personal anecdote, I did not grow up in a YHEC-type family. I did not shoot a gun until I was 19. An old Texas rancher handed me a .270, sat me down at a bench, glared at me, and said, “Now do what I tell you.”
It may not have been a classic introduction to shooting, but I’ll be forever grateful that he took the time at all. I shot up a lot of his ammo the next few days, and at the end of the week, I killed my first buck on his land near Laredo. We weren’t family, but neither of us cared. He looked at me with pride. I looked at the buck with awe. Until he died, that rancher and I shared a connection as strong as any blood tie I’ve ever had.
They aren’t something you can study or quantify, but when we talk about the future of hunting, those connections are something we need to keep in mind. YHEC may only be a weeklong event, but the bonds formed between parent and child, mentor and student, will last much longer.
If that’s not immersion, I don’t know what is.
To get involved in YHEC, visit: www.nrahq.org/hunting/youthed.asp or call 703-267-1503.
*Funded by the Multi-State Conservation Grant Program, supported with funds from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program and jointly managed by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.