With the total number of hunters declining a great deal of effort and discussions are taking place about how to boost overall hunter numbers. Youngsters are most often mentioned with obvious culprits of their time being screens of some sort ie cell phones, video games, internet or tv. School sports add to time demands often with a push for specialization year round or parents wanting them busy all day every day in sports. Another notable is the movement of families from more rural areas to urban areas usually for job purposes. Some adult jobs are also so demanding or constantly “on-the-clock” that there isn’t much time left to hunt unless it becomes a personal priority. Each are valid concerns sometimes appearing almost insurmountable in bringing new young people into the outdoor community. New adult professional positions have been created, conservation organizations organize various youth field or hunting experiences and companies make donations all in the name of recruiting new hunters. Each is admirable but, in my opinion temporary and really simply one of many experiences a child will have compiled as they grow unfortunately quite easily replaced by something else but still can be a starting point too.
Growing up in a small Minnesota town the outdoors was as close as opening the back door and a 10 minute hike down the railroad tracks shotgun or 22 in hand. The outdoors, guns and hunting became part of the person I’ve become. It’s also important to know that this took place over a number of years too. Most if not all of the credit must be given to my parents. Dad made time for me on his trips mom supported and encouraged us along the way. She chose not to sit in a blind, tree or walk the fields but wild game meals became a staple item in our household and loved being part of each adventure as the stories were told and retold at the dinner table and family gatherings. Along the way lessons were taught and expanded on, discussions about game habitat, locations and finding each took place constantly, firearm safety began early with an air gun until it was as natural as one foot in front of the other. Days began in total darkness often ending with the sun setting in the western sky. Gun dogs were constant companions knowing from the day they arrived that tears would be bitterly shed one day too but along the way marvels, compassion and still more experiences. Some may ask too what qualifies me as the expert on this? A former small town boy who moved to the big city? A public school teacher who spent 35 years with kids who taught firearm safety for longer than that? Or a father of two sons who became passionate about the outdoors and hunting? Honestly it’s probably all those things combined that continues to give me hope for tomorrow’s new generation of hunters but it will take more than a single experience for it to happen, much more. It will take time, effort, patience and a commitment for a number of years to weave it into the person and the personality. Mother Nature is a teacher with wonders beyond comprehension to experience. Hunting is like the classroom offering lessons and revisited at the table or with family and/or friends. Adults are teachers and along the way teaching responsibilities including things mentioned above along with sportsmanship, compassion and a fact that game in hand is to be celebrated and not the only measure of a hunts’ success or failure. If failure’s the lesson taught it’s doomed and this person will never really become a life-long hunter.
If you’re looking for a script to follow try this. Begin by making the sport part of a personal lifestyle. If you have a passion for it already celebrate it and if an occasional hunter make it known how fun it is. Tell stories about new and old hunts, begin watching and noticing wildlife, practice bird identification or identify animal tracks in parks or public lands in any case make it exciting and fun. If the child wants to come along make the time but be sure to keep them as the focus. By that I mean short legs don’t do well on long walks or tall grass. Cold rainy day hunts can make a lasting impression, the wrong one often. Get them some hunting clothes their very own. Make the experience fun even if it cuts into your hunting day. In the beginning let the child carry a toy gun it can be the start of firearm safety. Believe me stories will be told by them to anyone who will
listen, friends and family. As time passes add new items as they’re ready. Each child is different. For example: a BB gun, a youth model 20 gauge Remington pump but to carry empty at first, then you provide a shell and so on. Kind of a logical progression. Eventually an adult shotgun is a treasured gift by a family member. The Minnesota Waterfowl Youth day is a perfect time to make a hunt extra special and will provide a solid foundation with the hunts’ focus being solely on them. If successful in your teaching you will experience a satisfaction that knows no limits. Then one day this child, now a young adult will ask you if you’d like to come on a hunt with them and you’ll know the shorter days given up, the lessons, the patience, the years were absolutely perfect! Congratulations!! I know because I’m there with Erik and Chad, my sons!
Now as far as being the so-called expert? Nope just a guy passionate about the sport, believing in the value it offers and a dad having raised 2 sons who love to hunt and fish!