The Next Generation

February 18, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

A few weeks back a reader sent the following comment to me.

Youth hunting is one of my best memories growing up … certainly not the hunting part of it, just being out there with my dad, learning how to hunt.

I remember the first deer I “shot” at. I was walking up a tree row when a little 3×3 buck just walked out of the trees and stood right in front of me about 40 yards away. I could feel my pulse pounding in my head as I brought my .243 up to my shoulder. I tried to remember to breathe and to squeeze the trigger, not pull it.

Arguably the loudest noise on earth is when silence is interrupted by the sound a gun makes when it “fires” without a round in the chamber. Yup, when i got out of the pickup and “loaded” my gun the bolt slid right over the round and didn’t actually load. Needless to say the best shot I’ve ever had at a deer made pretty thin soup.

His ears shot up and he wheeled away from me and hit road gear before I realized my mistake to the full extent.

Good times.

The first time I read the note, it didn’t strike me as earth-shaking, but it has since taken on a degree of significance.

Right now we’re a couple of weeks past the last of North Dakota’s youth hunting seasons for waterfowl, deer and pheasants. These are modern-day specific opportunities designed to provide another avenue to invite the next generation of hunters to the field.

At the moment, North Dakota is bucking the nationwide trend when it comes to the number of young hunters. While most states have experienced gradual declines in the number of young people who hunt, North Dakota is documenting increases.

Now, however, is not the time to rest on our accomplishments I was raised in North Dakota at a time when youth hunting opportunities were created by my dad and signed off on by my mom with a field lunch waiting in the fridge. That’s not to mention the teachers who unofficially allowed what was deemed an excused absence the opening day of deer gun season.

So I think about the past and hope others follow the lead of introducing kids to the world outdoors. Life will provide hunters and nonhunters with gigabytes of memories, like the thrill of a teenager’s first touchdown on the field or knocking down a three-pointer on the basketball court. Those same types of smiles can appear in the middle of a CRP field with a bagged rooster, or even from a miss of a darting dove or teal.

While the youth seasons have passed, a lot of hunting still remains and I challenge all hunters to make every day a youth day. Seriously. I carried a BB gun in the field while my dad was grouse hunting years, before I was ready to hunt. And my kids carry toy guns, sticks or whatever piece of equipment they decide to pack. I also trudged through cattails as dad hunted pheasants and pushed shelterbelts during deer season, and my kids do their best to spend some time in the field also.

As my interested reader pointed out, it’s not about a big buck or even getting a deer, but the totality of the season. And with pheasant season just starting and deer season approaching, plenty of days to hit the field remain. Consider taking your own kids, and even someone else’s. They don’t even have to hunt. The point is that just by getting them “out there” they’ll develop a better appreciation for the outdoor world as the grow up.

And unlike football where a dropped pass or missed tackle may haunt a player for years, missing a deer or duck is just part of the hunting experience and can be recalled even decades later as a “good memory,” and that’s really what it’s all about.

It’s about spending time outdoors, where there’s no such thing as a bad day.


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