Just as my hunting partner, a high school student who had never hunted, and I entered the pasture on the far back region of the farm, I spotted two deer. They reluctantly trotted across the pasture’s ridgeline to avoid us. I told the young teen with his rifle to head up to where the deer disappeared and look down the opposite hillside toward the fence. Those deer could be standing there.
When my young friend reached the ridge top, I saw him suddenly kneel. He raised and steadied his rifle and shot. I moved up to his location and we walked down the hillside together. Laying on its side in the distance was his deer. I showed him how to field-dress it, then we loaded it into the pickup and drove it to a meat processor.
A few weeks later I was set to return to the same place to hunt so I called him to ask if he wanted to join me.
"No, there's not much to deer hunting and it's kinda boring," he quipped.
I was shocked. But once I began thinking back to his brief hunting introduction, I realized my mistake. His experience had been only to show up, shoot a deer and watch someone field-dress it. He had missed the thrill of scouting, reading sign, hanging a stand and preparing his gear. I was too busy before the hunt and failed to involve him in many of the steps that add to the excitement—and anticipation.
I learned my lesson, and since then I have successfully helped other young male and female hunters to discover hunting. For those hunters who sometimes struggle when it's time to introduce a new hunter to hunting, the good news is that there are multiple avenues available to help you introduce youth and adults alike. Here are just a few.
State Game Departments State game departments take hunter recruitment seriously to the point many states offer special youth or apprentice hunts for deer, turkeys, waterfowl, doves and other species. These hunts are often held the weekend before the regular season begins so the focus remains on young hunters, typically up to age 16 or 18, depending on the state. Hunts typically include safety briefings, presentations on game laws and details on the species being hunted, plus there’s often a chance for participants to practice once more with a shotgun or rifle before going afield. The young hunter must be accompanied by an adult (parent or guardian), who may be required to be licensed though he or she is not permitted to hunt. Depending on the state, he or she may have been required to pass a hunter education course.
These programs provide what hunter education courses do not: the opportunity to learn about hunting firsthand. The Texas Youth Hunting Program, for example, has a website detailing nearly two dozen hunts. Species range from deer and hogs to varmints and upland birds. Most hunts are free, and several provide on-site lodging. Click here for details—and to get an idea of what your state may offer. Conservation officers and other hunters also may know of special youth hunts.
Youth hunts are popular so register early. Also take the new hunter out to scout for the species being hunted and to buy proper-fitting gear and firearms to further convey your support.
Sportsmen's Clubs Many sportsmen's clubs open their clubhouse doors to welcome members’ kids and others to give hunting a try. Some host open houses and invite kids in the community to come to a class or range day, and then invite them back for a hunt. Club members sometimes loan youth-model shotguns and bring dogs to point and retrieve game. The clubs typically clubs cover most expenses. One club I hunted with in Texas brought out kids from a nearby city. All they had to do to get invited to hunt was to indicate they wanted to give hunting a try.
State Archery Associations Archery clubs and associations are also sources of local hunting opportunities for kids and entire families alike. One of the most action-packed events that created the biggest smiles on kid's faces that I’d ever seen was a youth archery hunt for rabbits, thanks to the planning of members with the N.C. Bowhunters Association (NCBA). Held at a rural farm, kids arrived early and spent the day afield trying to see or release an arrow at a rabbit. Adults helped the kids stay focused and involved. While few rabbits were collected, many kids were thrilled to shoot bows, hear and see dogs chasing rabbits, and have a burger and soup for lunch after the morning hunt.
Other Opportunities Safely introducing any new hunter to hunting involves having them learn to shoot and safely handle a firearm. Consider having your young hunter attend a Boy Scouts of America camp. Most offer opportunities to shoot .22 rifles and shotguns. Some offer game management activities such as clearing brush, building habitat or duck nest boxes, and other projects that can build interest in the outdoors and wildlife conservation. However, few Boy Scouts camps permit hunting.
In addition, don’t overlook checking with guides and outfitters. An increasing number of them offer discounts for young hunters. The savings can be substantial and the opportunities unequalled. Ask the next time you book a hunt.
As you can see, there are ample opportunities to help introduce the young person in your life to hunting. Keep it fun and exciting and he or she will be hooked for life.
■ ■ ■
Editor’s Note: Take Advantage of the NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge! To keep hunting on the front burner year round, be sure to check out the NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) program. As the most comprehensive youth hunter program in all of North America, YHEC is designed to enhance hunting, marksmanship and safety skills for kids ages 18 and under who have passed their basic hunter education course. Participants receive hands-on training in eight events providing experience in all methods of take and with all types of game. Since its inception in 1985, YHEC has trained more than 1.2 million young hunters. For more information, visit yhec.nra.org or contact NRA Youth Hunter Education at 800-492-4868. To read about the success of this year’s YHEC, click here.