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March 16, 2021

The Kids Are Alright: Pandemic Spurs on Youth Hunting

By Larry Keane

The priceless memories created from a hunting trip with dads or moms can stay with sons and daughters for a lifetime. Creating more of those opportunities has become even easier.

The onset of coronavirus and the historic firearm sales spurred by it increased America’s gun owning population across all demographics. Simultaneously, that boost also reversed a trend that will have lasting effects for outdoorsmen and women and conservationists for generations. Americans in big numbers took to the fields and woods to hunt and that included kids discovering an outdoors lifestyle.

South Dakota Republican state Rep. Lynn Schneider supported a new measure to lower the age requirement on youth hunting in his state and recognizes why the boon matters. He explained that when younger hunters get “involved in hunting and trapping at an early age…we’ve then got a hunter, a fisherman and a trapper for the next 40 years.”

Small Hunters. Big Game.

If there were any doubt small hunters could tag big game, the 2020-2021 hunting season put the notion to rest. Fourteen-year old Paslie Werth in Kansas went out one Sunday afternoon for a deer hunt with her dad and she came home happy. After nearly giving up on the day, Werth saw some movement and found not just her target, but a world record 42-point non-typical whitetail just before sundown.

“When we walked up on him, I was kind of in shock. I couldn’t believe that what had just happened had actually happened,” Werth told local news. “He was way bigger than I thought, and I couldn’t believe how heavy his rack was. My hands couldn’t even go around his antlers.”

In Clark County Wisconsin, a young hunter felled a black bear weighing more than 10 times her weight. Eleven-year old Naiya Iraci wanted to hunt bear with her grandfather on his property. Iraci lined up on a 720-pound black bear from about 30 yards away. It was the first she’d seen. “I was nervous, I was kind of shaking,” Iraci said. Not shaking enough to miss though, and she harvested the state’s record bear.

In Morrisville, N.C., Bryan Alexander took his 13-year old daughter Emma on her first turkey hunt. She didn’t go home empty-handed. After walking a field and reaching a place to set up, the two thought they heard a snake rustling through the brush. When Bryan threw a stick to scare it off, they saw three gobblers rush by. Emma aimed her shotgun and dropped a gobbler with a 10-inch beard and 1 ¼-inch spurs.

In Alabama, nine-year-old Ella Clay dropped a 10-point buck while her 10-year old friend Dee Tully took home two greenhead mallards on a recent excursion. Stories like these were common during the recent hunting seasons and will undoubtedly stay with these kids, their families and friends for decades.

States Encourage Youth Hunting

South Dakota and New York recognized the opportunities created by more outdoor social distancing and encouraged youth hunting. South Dakota completely removed youth hunting age restrictions, costs or fees. The purpose is to get the lost funds from kid licenses back in the coming years through new hunting traditions.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, an avid hunter herself, praised the new guidelines. “2020 was a tremendous year for youth hunting and fishing in South Dakota, and we’re building on that for the future,” she said. “The goal of this legislation is to get more young people involved in our outdoor way of life at an early age so they continue those experiences long into their adulthood.”

In New York, state legislators are proposing to drop the state minimum age for youth hunters by two years, from 14 to 12, bringing the Empire State more in line with the rest of the nation. New York Republican state Senator Dan Stec said the proposal was a way of taking advantage of the increased interest in hunting. “The sporting community saw a big boost this past year. Many more hunting licenses were sold and there was a dramatic increase in hunter education courses.”

It’s exactly what NSSF’s +Onesm encourages. +One challenges traditional hunters to bring one new hunter along on the next outing. The experience will last a lifetime and grow the traditions and perpetuate conservation. It might even help a young hunter take home a trophy.

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