“I don’t know exactly how to say it but this weekend changed me. I feel like I can do bigger things. I feel like I can do hard things. The time in the deer stand talking, having someone listen to me. It was amazing.” The words of a young lady on the drive home from her first deer hunt. I was not surprised how much it impacted her, I had seen it many times before. I live for those moments and it always draws me in to a place of gratitude and joy. A life changed, a kid empowered.
In many areas the tradition of hunting, the traditions of the woods, the deer camp are struggling to stay alive. The average age of the hunter in America is now 35 plus with most over the age of 45. The numbers of hunters has been declining heavily since its peak in 1985 according to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and the U.S. Sportsmen s Alliance (USSA). There are some solid trends that should concern anyone who enjoys hunting. Did you know there are state and local laws that restrict the age for youth big game hunting? Yes, laws that restrict when you think your kid is ready to hunt or not. Statistically the hunter that begins between the ages of 7 – 15 is more likely to continue the tradition into their adult life. But it is not just the hunting. Kids today are not going outside.
The average kid today spends 40 minutes a week outside. They spend an unbelievable 70 hours a week looking at a screen (electronics). Sure we can yell at our kids to turn the TV off. We can refuse to give them a phone or take it away. We can refuse to allow video games in the home but that rarely solves the problem. For most of the kids today electronics, not bicycles, are cultural. Their parents are both working and they don’t look to the woods for an escape or adventure, it’s all online. They are given computers at school, not books, they watch 100 plus television channels, Youtube and a dozen programs are in the palm of their hand and full of content that draws them in. Solutions are instantaneous, problems are solved in 30 minutes or less. Of course their attention span is short, their ability to sit, be still and quiet is all but gone.
Every hunter should be concerned. Every outdoors man or woman should be. If we as a group, a population, a family, do not each make an effort to help turn the tide we will be pushed out by the anti-hunting organizations that march forward with passion and money. Training outdoor mentors is the key here. One time hunts can have a big impact on a new hunter but ultimately the excitement fades and old habits return without regular exposure. Your state wildlife department, the big manufacturers, the outdoor conservation groups do not have the resources nor the ability to assign their employees or volunteers mentoring responsibilities. A mentor has to come forward because they have a heart for the mission. They have to buy in and commit. The new hunter, the youth hunter needs to experience the adventure in a safe and enjoyable way. If not done correctly it can turn them away from the sport for a lifetime.
Here are some of the top lessons to use should you choose to step up and mentor a kid into the outdoors.
No video or cell phone. You or them. This is a time for them to hear, see, smell and be with creation. Break off and resist the desire to watch YouTube videos while sitting and waiting. It may be really hard but it is really powerful. The last things I would mention are follow all game laws. Know the season and what is legal and not legal. Tolerate nothing less. Take a bunch of snacks for you to enjoy together. Take waters or juice to make sure they don’t get thirsty. The littler ones may get a bit bored waiting. If they are not comfortable with the shot, don’t want to take the shot, then okay pass. Give them the chance to make the right choice and if they just can’t do it then they just don’t do it.
It is said the kids today will never hear the words, “go outside and come back when the street lights come on.” They will never run in the woods behind their house with a .22 and a box of shells for the day. They will never go duck hunting or deer hunting before school then rush to school with feathers flying everywhere or blood dripping from the tail gate. They won’t hang their deer rifle or shot gun in the rack behind the driver’s seat in the back window of their old pickup waiting for school to get out so they can return to the field. Your time mentoring in the outdoors may be one of the most important opportunities you will have in your lifetime. Make it count, today for tomorrow. TJ Greaney firstname.lastname@example.org