First Light: NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge

by
posted on January 11, 2016
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Casey’s gaze was steady. Her form exemplary. Raising and drawing her bow, the world around her faded to black. The coyote took off, reaching full stride in mere seconds. Tracking the predator for a fraction of a moment, Casey’s trigger finger reacted on instinct and her arrow sailed and hit home. A perfect shot behind the shoulder. Under normal circumstances, Casey’s next action would be admiring a trophy and a shot few hunters ever get a chance to take, let alone make. Today, however, 15-year-old Casey would simply move on, pleased with the addition of 10 points to her score, and the coyote-on-a-string target would be reset for the next hunter.

The girl I just described, though fictitious, is as real as they come, and the feat she displayed occurs all across the country at various NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) events.     

“If they could just get off the computer and stop playing those darned video games!”

“In my day, kids played outside and actually learned something.”

Despite the particulars of the criticism, we’ve all heard it at some point in our lives. The message: Today’s youth aren’t spending as much time outdoors as we did. Is there some truth to it? For sure. Is technology to blame? In part, perhaps. Have we gone past the point of no return? Are the youth of tomorrow doomed to couch-potato status? Mobile device zombies with pop culture consumeristic dribble forced into their minds? Whoa, let’s not get carried away. While the fear of raising a generation of “indoor” children who may not chose to have hunting as a part of their lives is certainly justified, there is a segment of kids today that still see the woods as their playground and can probably teach you a thing or two about wildlife. Because for the more than 6,000 kids 18 and under participating in NRA’s YHEC program across the country, hunting is life.

Since 1985, the NRA YHEC program has been providing an exciting and practical environment for kids to develop and improve their hunting, marksmanship and safety skills. Deemed a “graduate” hunter education course, YHEC, through its simulated hunting scenarios, live-fire exercises and educational and responsibility events builds upon skills learned in basic hunter education courses and encourages safer, lifelong hunting habits. NRA’s YHEC program is developing the next generation of hunters. These are hunters who will buy licenses, practice ethical hunting and eventually pass along their knowledge of the outdoors to the next generation. And they are impressive.

While it’s true there are increasing challenges that stand in the way of youth participation in the hunting sports, technology, and in turn a lack of desire, are not solely responsible for this decline. Urbanization plays a bigger role. Places to hunt are becoming more difficult to find, and the hunting culture itself is beginning to fade. Historically, hunting was a tradition passed on to youngsters by older, experienced hunters, be they family members, mentors or friends. Unfortunately, in the technology-filled, time-strapped world we live in, many adults, faced with longer work hours and growing costs of living, are finding it harder and harder to make time to take kids afield. Some kids, despite their interest, may be part of a family where hunting wasn’t a tradition and have no one to turn to.

So, are you a parent who wishes you had more time and opportunities to share the outdoors with your children? Perhaps you work for a state game agency or are a hunter education instructor and are looking for ways to get more young people involved in the sport we love. Maybe you’re searching for ways to increase your hunting or shooting club’s outreach to the local community. Or maybe you’re just an adult who, as a kid, realized the value of time spent with grown-ups in the field, and you want to make sure the next generation is able to enjoy the benefits of hunting and the outdoors as well. In any case, the NRA YHEC program is the answer.

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