Everyone agrees we need to get more kids into hunting, but not everyone is convinced that holding an early youth-only hunting season will actually help hunter retention over time.
A decade or two ago, state wildlife agencies recognized they had a problem on their hands. In just about all states, the number of deer hunters was dropping. As baby boomers got older, fewer and fewer new deer hunters were coming into the fold. To try to stave off the bleeding, states established special youth deer hunts, giving 10- to 17-year-olds (depending on the state) an opportunity to hunt, for a specified period of time, before everyone else could. These hunts were intended not only to get more kids deer hunting (boost hunter recruitment), but to make them dyed-in-the-wool deer hunters for life (increase hunter retention).
But there are a lot of other good reasons for holding an annual youth deer hunt.
“It gives our youth a chance to get out there, gain experience and just enjoy a lot of what deer hunting is all about,” said Michigan deer hunter Yvette Tingey. “And because there are fewer hunters participating, it’s a safer hunt than during the regular deer seasons.”
Without getting too technical, studies consistently show learning a challenging activity helps kids gain confidence and self-esteem. Youth deer hunts fill the bill nicely. They also help parents get their kids off the couch and out into the woods, helping both of them get a little (sometimes a lot of!) exercise and enjoy nature’s splendor.
“Five or six years ago, it was the second day of the youth hunt, and my son and I were sitting in a pop-up deer blind,” recalled Maine hunter Carson Philbrick. “All of a sudden the wind picked up and golf-ball-sized hail starting falling. Our blind caved in, and we both got soaked trying to put it back up. We didn’t see any deer, but to this day we laugh when we talk about that hunt.”