If you are a frequent reader of this column you know that I am always honest. Sometimes this is not easy. There may be things that you do not want to hear. Most of you know that I am an avid hunter and I believe in hunting and always will. We hear a lot these days about the importance of teaching children about hunting and perpetuating our hunting heritage. Is it really that important in today’s world? I’m not so sure.
Proponents of this claim there are several good reasons to get your kids out in the woods and into the hunting environment. They claim that teaching kids about the many aspects of hunting benefits young people in many areas of life. Let’s look at some of these claims.
Hunting teaches kids about conservation. Is this really vital in today’s modern world? I know that hunters foot the bill for dozens of conservation projects, but this is 2015 for heaven’s sake, is conservation really that important nowadays?
Hunting is a way of connecting to the outdoors. Again, is this important? Hunting and being in the outdoors has been shown to be a way to relax, lower blood pressure and numerous other health benefits, but can’t kids do the same thing playing video games?
Hunting can encourage you to be physically fit. Not that again. I mean aren’t you tired of all this talk about taking care of your health? Kids today probably get plenty of exercise running to the fridge for another grape soda.
Hunting develops traditions and connections with family. Well maybe, but isn’t that whole family and traditions thing highly over rated?
Hunting teaches survival skills and dealing with adverse conditions. Can’t kids get the same thing from watching TV programs like Alone and The Walking Dead?
Hunting prepares you to become a responsible person. The assertion is that learning to be safe with firearms, taking, processing and preparing game animals for the table and learning to be an ethical hunter teaches responsibility. Well, I guess that may be true.
OK, for those of you sitting there with your fists balled up and your blood pressure rising, calm down, I am trying to make a point. I thought if I showed this issue in another light, some people might pay a little more attention. Yes, of course I think teaching kids about hunting is important. Yes, young people (and older folks too) can learn many good skills and life lessons from hunting.
Now I am going to tell you about a great program associated with introducing kids to hunting.
Many of our states have great hunter education programs. The benefit of these classes is incalculable, young people learn firearms safety, hunting ethics, care of game, wildlife identification and dozens of other valuable lessons. Problem is in today’s world not every child who wants to go hunting has someone to take them.
I am proud to say that my old alma mater, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section is sponsoring a new program for their Natural Resource Police Officers to take young people hunting on special youth days. Yep, that’s right; they get to go hunting with the game warden. How cool is that?
“We see this new program as fulfilling a need to get our state’s youngsters outside and to promote our state’s hunting heritage,” said Col. Jerry Jenkins, chief of the WVDNR Law Enforcement Section. “We are looking for young people across the state that our officers can mentor and help enjoy the coming fall hunting seasons.”
The goals of the Youth Hunting Program are to preserve the state’s hunting heritage for present and future generations; to promote the highest ethical standards in hunting; to give the state’s youth an initial, positive, safe, educational and mentored hunting experience; to teach basic skills, values, techniques and responsibilities of hunting; and to teach participants practical conservation measures.
Youth Hunting Program participants must be 8 to 17 years old and complete and submit an application. They also are required to complete the West Virginia Hunter Education Course, have a valid West Virginia hunting license (if required), and have a completed release form signed by a parent or guardian.
“Youth who enter the program will learn how to hunt safely, legally and ethically,” said Col. Jenkins. “They also will learn how to track and field dress game, appreciate nature firsthand and make new friends. We expect these youth hunts will provide experiences and memories that will last a lifetime for both the kids and the officers.”
I feel like I was a little part of history as I was asked to join the very first Youth Day hunt with Officers on September 5, the Youth squirrel hunt. Five young men (young ladies are welcome too) were accompanied by several DNR Officers on what I thought was a very successful maiden voyage for this program.
Did these young hunters shoot a lot of squirrels on this hunt? Nope, not one. (Temperatures were close to 90) Did they take a big hike in the woods, learn about everything from what squirrels and other animals eat to what signs do they leave? Did they learn about safe gun handling and how to recognize different animal tracks? Absolutely. They even got to watch some first rate squirrel dogs work. Once, during a break I saw the whole bunch playing a fast paced game of catch alongside an officer, with an invisible ball. (You had to be there)
These boys had a great day in the field with their hosts the DNR Officers, ending up with a hot dog cook out when they came out of the woods. What a wonderful way for young hunters to be introduced to DNR Officers for the first time, instead of the possible alternative.
Your state may have already started such a program, if not; maybe you want to suggest they do. I don’t think an excessive amount of funds are needed for programs like this. Just the time and effort involved to take a kid hunting. You know if your state doesn’t have a program like this you can take it upon yourself to mentor a young person in hunting. Take a look around you, they’re out there.
O yeah, and we’re good about that little trick I pulled there at first, right? I mean, I did it for your own good. Honest I did.