Take a youth hunting

This year’s youth squirrel season was Sept. 2. Today is the state youth deer antlerless gun season. All youth hunters must be at least eight years of age and less than 18 years old.

Youth hunters, aged 15-17, must comply with all of the state licensing requirements, but the Class N or NN stamp is not required. Youth hunters, aged 8-14, must be accompanied by a licensed adult, who must also wear 400 square inches of blaze orange. The accompanying adults cannot carry a gun, bow, or crossbow and must remain close enough to the youth hunter(s) to render advice or assistance. The accompanying nonresident adults must possess a Class E license plus a CS/LE stamp.

I have stated several times since I started writing this outdoors column that the youth hunts are vital for the future of sport hunting, not only in West Virginia, but nationwide as well. It was last year when I came upon an adult hunter who had two small children with him. It really made me feel good to see this, because more youth need to be introduced to the joys of this noble sport.

Getting the next generation of hunters into the fields or forests should be a priority of any licensed sportsman or woman. This is not only an investment in the future of hunting, but the rewards are more than one can imagine. This experience alone can change the way certain adolescents and youth approach the outdoors when they become young adults.

Here are some tips when it comes to achieving this endeavor. The first is safety. This is something that cannot be over-emphasized. When I was in my youth and learning how to hunt, my father sternly drilled this subject home to me. “You make sure it’s a squirrel or a groundhog. Just because you hear something or see something move, you just don’t start shooting.” Dad was so stern with this lecture to where it almost made me not wanting to go hunting.

In the 1950s through the 1990s, better than half of the state’s hunting shooting accidents involved youth hunters. This was changed when the state mandated the hunter education and identification course. No base hunting license can be sold to a person born on or after Jan. 1, 1975, unless that person presents to the licensing agent a certificate of satisfactory completion of a Hunter Safety or Education course. The one exemption to this rule is one who is purchasing a hunter apprentice license. Today the vast majority of West Virginia’s hunting mishaps are hunters falling out of tree stands.

Remember to try to make the outing fun and interesting. Emphasize that it is the hunt itself that really makes the outing enjoyable, not the kill. I don’t know how many times I went hunting with my father and grandfather and came home “skunked” or empty-handed. It really did not matter because all of us enjoyed being outdoors.

Be patient, because youth hunters are going to squirm around somewhat and make some noise when walking about. The adult should try to find ways to use this youth energy for learning and teaching. Try collecting leaves to where they can be matched with the pictures in a tree ID book.

Bring along some drinks and snacks to share with the youth if you notice their attention starting to fade. A quick snack can often give the adult some needed energy so they can keep up with the learning youth hunter.

Hunting may not be for everyone. For example, my mother enjoyed going on hikes in the woods, along with target shooting, but she did not like shooting the wild animals. Here is where the hunting instructor needs to let the youth hunter learn at their own pace and at the same time develop their own curiosity. Therefore, don’t pressure a child to take up hunting.

One of the things I still enjoy about sport hunting is the endless learning process. No person is ever going to know everything about that big buck or that big turkey. Sport hunting alone involves an infinite amount of learning. This goes for the hunting instructor as well as the learning youth hunter.

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