Passing on hunting to youngsters
In last week’s column, I made a brief mention about how not enough youth hunters are coming on to replace the senior hunters. We all know many are leaving this outdoor activity for one reason or another. We are now starting a new year. On my last hunting trip, I came upon an adult who was hunting and he had two small children with him. Naturally, this gentlemen was introducing these youngsters to the great outdoor activity.
The reasons to pass on the hunting tradition from one generation to another are almost endless. First, recreational or sport hunting helps connect growing children to the land and its real inhabitants. Hunting enhances a bonding with the vast outdoors, which helps build physical fitness.
We are now in the dead of the winter, but good weather is in the not-too-far distant future. This is the time to be thinking about introducing more youth to this worthwhile activity.
It is well-known throughout the United States that that the number of hunters is on the decline.
The latest estimate that I have found says about seven hunters are being recruited for every 10 who retire. In West Virginia, this ratio could be even smaller.
Now before one brings young hunters into this environment, there are certain goals to consider. In today’s fast-moving and high-tech world, senior hunters need to stress the preservation of all of this wilderness. Seasoned hunters need to emphasize the appreciation of nature, wildlife, forests and open space. This is something my parents did for me that turned me into an outdoors enthusiast.
Always encourage youth to be ready to explore new lands. It does not matter if it is forests; it can also be marshes, meadows, streams, swamps, etc. Have them catch and try to identify certain insects. Depending on the age of the child, have them scout for certain birds and small animals (rabbits, raccoon, squirrels, etc.). Help them learn about plant life around them, which has a direct connection between wild animals and their food.
If this is enough to stir their imagination or interest in the outdoors, then it may be time to recruit them as a hunting apprentice. This will expose them to hunting and permit them to participate with the basic fundamentals and rituals of the sport. Which activities youth are ready for will depend on their age and maturity. One important detail to keep in mind is not to push them out of their comfort zone.
One of the first steps in familiarizing youth to hunting is to have them read and study the hunting regulations for the current year. Some states have age minimums and require youth hunters to be accompanied by non-hunting adults.
In West Virginia, youth hunters must be 8 years of age and less than 18.
Youth hunters who are 15 through 17 years old must comply with the state licensing requirements.
Those who are eight through 14 must be accompanied by a licensed adult.
West Virginia has special youth hunts on certain dates in the year for deer, spring gobbler and squirrel.
I have often emphasized that these special youth hunts are important for the future of sport hunting nationwide.
Firearm safety is a factor that cannot be over-emphasized. This is where adults must set a good example for young people to follow. During the good weather, in the spring, is a great time to take a youth out in the country for some hands-on target shooting. Public shooting ranges are also available in many areas throughout the state.
When mentoring an up-and-coming youth hunter, try to focus on mastery as well as achievement. During the summer months, try to plan as many target-shooting opportunities as possible. Keep in mind, the more hunting and target shooting children get to do in their youth, the more likely they will want to participate as adults.