When the Youth Hunters Education Challenge (YHEC) announced that the annual YHEC National Championship was being canceled in favor of more regional events, rumors started to fly. The top rumor being that YHEC was on the way out.
YHEC was and remains the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) preeminent youth hunting development program, providing a fun and practical environment for kids to develop and improve their hunting, marksmanship and safety skills.
Yes, YHEC has gone through some reorganization, and that process will continue for a time. But YHEC is as strong as ever and the changes that have and will be implemented are designed to make the program even more accessible to more young Americans.
“We think we’ll reach more young people with the regional format than the national venue,” said Monty Embrey, manager of YHEC at the NRA's Hunter Services. “Don’t get me wrong—the national championships were great events. But the reality was, having the event in only one place, and rather far from other population centers, made attending the championships a major financial and time endeavor for families.”
Embrey continued, “The regional format runs three to four days, for example, whereas the nationals were a week-long event. And holding the regionals in two or more locations gives people the chance to attend who might otherwise feel they lived too far away to make it all work.”
Since the very first event held in 1985, YHEC has had over 1.2 million participants. Building upon skills learned in basic hunter education courses, YHEC is designed to promote and encourage safe, lifelong hunting through its simulated hunting situations, live-fire exercises, and educational and responsibility events. The regional format will continue to follow the national format as far as how the actual events are conducted.
The 2019 Regional YHEC Championships were held in Bentonville, Ark., and near Elmira-Ithaca area of New York State. Attendance was nearly equal to national attendance, Embrey noted, and he was very encouraged by that fact.
Practice for the regional championships occurs at the local and state levels. YHEC at the local level is a basic introduction for youth who are interested in hunting. State YHEC events are at an intermediate level and require youth to have completed a hunter education course or the free NRA Online Hunter Education Course.
To participate in a YHEC event, you must be 18 years of age or under. If a hunter education course is required, you must follow your state's age requirements.
Local and state YHEC events must feature at least one of the following responsibility/educational events and one of the following shooting events:
Hunter Responsibility Exam: Students test their knowledge of hunter safety, ethics, responsibility and the laws;
Hunter Safety Trail: Here, young hunters demonstrate their knowledge of safe hunting practices in various hunting situations;
Orienteering: Hunters prove they know how to navigate a course using a map and compass;
Wildlife Identification: Participants identify tracks, hides, feathers and other signs of North American wildlife;
.22 Rifle: Utilize a .22 rifle to shoot at action-type or life-size game targets;
Shotgun: Demonstrate shotgun shooting skills across multiple hunters' clays stations;
Muzzleloader: Use a muzzleloading rifle with open sights to shoot at action-type or life-size game targets;
Archery: Walk through an archery course set up with life-size animal targets.
According to Embrey, there may well be a third, regional event slated for 2020. If this new regional is confirmed, YHEC will announce dates and the location as soon as possible, here at HLF and other NRA media platforms.
Splitting the Nationals into two and possibly three separate venues does mean that YHEC will likely need more volunteers—more for the various events and more at the local and state levels as increased numbers of youth enter the program.
If you are an experienced hunter, consider volunteering your time to help at a YHEC event. Want more information on YHEC? Visit the website at yhec.nra.org.
About the Author: Brian McCombie is a field editor and editorial contributor for the NRA's American Hunter. He writes about firearms and gear for the NRA's Shooting Illustrated website, as well as handling public relations and marketing for companies and manufacturers in the shooting sports industry. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10 mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with Squinchy, the orange tabby cat.