by Mia Anstine - Saturday, November 23, 2019
The NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) is a comprehensive youth hunter education program created by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Established in 1985, it has reached more than 1 million young sportsmen and women to date, providing a series of hunting-oriented events designed to teach hunter skills, safety and responsibility. The NRA YHEC is hosted on local, state and regional levels, and run by dedicated volunteer hunter education instructors and other volunteers.
NRA YHEC participants compete individually and/or as a team in eight skill areas, providing them with experience in all methods of take and all types of wild game species. Youth take part in rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader and 3-D archery events; they also learn to identify wildlife species and participate in map-and-compass orienteering, outdoor survival and hunter safety exercises.
My daughter got involved in the NRA YHEC when she was 12 years old. Other young ladies, or young men, can begin participating in the program at any age up to age 18 as long as they have completed a state hunter education course or the NRA’s Free Online Hunter Education Course.
When my daughter competed in the YHEC program she used her own equipment. If you do not have access to the required gear, coaches may have items for your child to borrow. Through generous support of the Friends of NRA and other conservation organizations, most hunting and shooting clubs offer loaner rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders and archery equipment. Participants who prefer to bring their own firearms or bows are required to have them inspected prior to shooting. Many clubs also supply ammunition. Check on this before you make a purchase as all ammo must meet NRA YHEC guidelines.
Local, state and regional NRA YHEC clubs work hard to acquire the required funding to help cover program expenses. My daughter’s club solicited sponsorships from local businesses, applied for grants and hosted multiple fundraising events throughout the year. If you plan to get your child into an NRA YHEC program, you will need to ask your club what will be required financially in advance.
Participating in an NRA YHEC will improve your child’s hunting knowledge, shooting skills, wildlife knowledge, responsibility afield and more. It also creates a sense of camaraderie, teaching youth how to interact with other children, coaches, volunteers and local or state wildlife conservation officers in a fun environment with their peers.
As reported by this website in August, the YHEC program has undergone restructuring in order to better reach children across the country. While the NRA used to host an annual YHEC National Championship, it canceled the national event in favor of offering more regional events in addition to the many local and state events held throughout the year. It divided the United States according to population and will host two regional competitions each year. Individuals must reside in the region to compete in that area’s competition. A child also may solely participate and not compete in a local, state or regional YHEC. Sometimes this is the perfect way to be introduced as a child learns about one of the four shooting disciplines at a time, then trying out the others as he or she becomes more comfortable.
As a parent, I recommend the NRA YHEC program and other hunting- and shooting sports-related events for your child. It is amazing how competition increases a child’s desire to excel. It teaches how to win with grace and to take another podium position with pride, maybe inspiring the child to try harder next time. Parents can watch the YHEC competition but are not allowed to provide coaching or instruction, unless by chance they decide they want to become an NRA YHEC coach.
As a spectator, I’ve watched youngsters not only behave in a safe and responsible manner, but I’ve also witnessed teammates being supportive of and encouraging one another. The displays of sportsmanship and respect for other teams are notable. Being introduced to hunting in a respectable manner creates responsible, self-sufficient and independent children. Aside from introducing your offspring to hunting on your own, the NRA YHEC is just what we need to inspire safe, self-sufficient, resourceful, respectful individuals.
Worth noting, for several years we’ve seen a decline in the number of hunters in the United States. If you ask long-time hunters how they got started, many proclaim that they began hunting when they were youngsters. The pursuit is something their parents and grandparents passed down to them. When I think of my own story, that’s pretty much how it went. However, with populations growing, broken homes and attacks on hunting by animal rights extremists, it’s becoming more difficult for youngsters to become involved. Fortunately, the NRA offers programs and services to American hunters at every skill level to meet their needs and help them experience a lifetime of hunting enjoyment.
To become involved in the NRA YHEC program, contact Monty Embry, NRA YHEC Program Manager, at 703-267-1503 or [email protected].
More About NRA YHEC
To learn more about the recent NRA YHEC program updates, listen to this webinar from the NRA Clubs, Associations and Range Services Department.
Editor’s Note Regarding NRA’s Free Online Hunter Education Course:
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced state wildlife agencies now may claim a dollar value of the NRA’s Free Online Hunter Education Course as in-kind match dollars to access federal Pittman-Robertson (P-R) grant funds. The move marks a major win for the NRA and state wildlife agencies, which rely on the P-R dollars administered by the USFWS’ Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Division for their fish and wildlife conservation programs, and is a giant step forward in bolstering states’ hunter recruitment efforts and the national NRA-backed R3 movement (Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation).
About the author: Mia Anstine writes from her home in the Rocky Mountains of southwest Colorado. She guides hunters chasing elk, mule deer, black bears and Merriam’s turkeys in southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. From her rural home base, Mia’s traveled to pursue wild animals around the world. When she’s not writing, hunting or guiding you’ll find her traveling the country to teach archery, firearms and other outdoor-related skills. She strives to encourage others to get outside, hunt, fish, shoot, cook, eat, survive, create and live life in a positive way. Learn more at miaanstine.com.
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