Back in February and March of 1997 blizzards were raging across the Dakota Plains. Snow drifts were packed like concrete and were quite literally as tall as my garage. If the county grader came by the house it did so only about once a week. At one point the wife and I were stranded in our little house on the prairie for four days when I snapped a front axel on my old four-wheel drive.
Things were looking grim because in the midst of all the snow and wind, the wife was “heavy with child.” It was only an incredible coincidence she went into labor just as the county grader cleared Hwy. 10 and a nearby rancher used his front-end loader to clear our driveway. My first child, a big healthy boy, was born between two fierce blizzards as February gave way to March.
The local game warden presented us with a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun to welcome the little guy into the world and I started making plans for the day Dad’s little hunting buddy would be able to walk afield with his own shotgun in search of roosters and rabbits.
Where have those 12 years gone? There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I’ve spent lots of days in the field waiting for little legs to catch up; answering countless questions about where grouse hide, why rabbits run in a circle and why you have to be quiet when deer hunting.
Finally the boy has come of age. He’s enrolled in a hunter safety course and this year, for the first time, he will accompany me into the field as a fully vested member of the hunting party. This is what I’ve been waiting for; the culmination of an effort we should all get behind: The introduction of youngsters to the shooting sports.
I started explaining the joys of hunting and shooting to my children as soon as they were able to walk with me in the field. Doing so is the job of every hunter and shooter in the nation. But we can’t just focus on our own kids, we’ve got to reach out.
The NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 4-H and every single state game agency across this country have programs that encourage active participation by youngsters. If you can’t find one of these programs in your area, consider starting one. You’ll be surprised at the amount of help available.
The very future of our sport depends on introducing youngsters to the shooting community. State agencies have pointed out that the sooner we can get kids involved in the shooting sports the better chance we have of keeping them as active, lifelong members. Several studies have shown that if we don’t get kids involved by the time they reach 11 or 12 years old, we will typically miss the opportunity and they will be lost to other hobbies.
To that end, several states have recently enacted youth hunter programs letting kids as young as 10 years old hunt with the supervision of an adult. Here in Wisconsin, the decidedly anti-gun governor recently signed such a bill. It matters not that he was likely trying to boost falling license revenue in an effort to raid the wildlife conservation funds for another purpose, my 9-year-old son, Ethan, is happy as a clam. He’s already trying to figure out ways he can get in the hunting game.
The point of the matter is that hunting and shooting are sports that require participation. Sadly, they also require political involvement and participants must often jump through hoops just to enjoy their hobbies and exercise their rights.
For future generations of shooters to carry that torch, they are going to have to be dedicated, motivated and educated. That means starting them young, immersing them in the culture and the lifestyle and supporting them as they learn about these sports.
It’s our job. It is our responsibility and it is something we all need to take very seriously. Now, more than ever, we need to build a strong foundation for the next generation.
The future of our freedoms depend on it.
See what else is Inside the October 12, 2009 Issue