Youth Hunting Seasons Have a Purpose

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

I guess it was the cold weather and a quick look at the calendar that told me the gun season for deer was just around the corner. Also, in recent years, Ohio has held a special two-day youth deer season that usually opened the weekend before Thanksgiving. I think the first one was back in 2003. Of the two seasons, I have a tendency to think that the youth season is probably the most important one, at least in the grand scheme of things. The purpose of giving this special privilege to young hunters isn’t designed to provide an opportunity to shoot a deer before the rest of humanity hits the countryside during the regular season. It’s designed more as a teaching moment where experienced hunters can share a quality hunt with a novice hunter, without all of the usual hassle, and pass on the hunting tradition to a new generation.

It’s a bit sad that today’s young hunters need extra encouragement to take up hunting, but it’s totally understandable. The idea of special youth seasons, apprentice hunting licenses, and other incentives are accepted as necessary if the sport is expected to continue. Now that I think about it, I don’t particularly care for maintaining hunting as a sport or even calling it a sport for that matter. A sport, by definition, is an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual competes against another for entertainment. I prefer to think of hunting as an activity and skill used for recreation. Hunting is when individuals can go outdoors and recharge their batteries so they’re refreshed when the workday starts again. Competition against an animal might be part of the equation, but the way I learned it, filling a bag limit or a tag isn’t the main goal.

Like many, I was fortunate enough to have an individual who was responsible for introducing me to hunting. In my case, it was my father. For you, it might have been your mother, grandfather, uncle, cousin, or the next-door neighbor. Regardless, someone in your life took the time to introduce you to the wonders of nature and the outdoors. Chances are, if you became a follower, it was a life-long commitment. It’s hard not to experience the outdoors without becoming addicted to it. In my case, the outdoors provided a place where I could opt out of the realistic life we’re all forced to live, at least for a moment. My imagination still sets in on a cold morning watching the sun come up over my woods. There’s always something to see and experience in the outdoors, and looking down a gun barrel isn’t necessarily the first choice, at least mine. When I was young, it wasn’t hard to imagine that parts of my limited outdoor world were still untamed, unexplored, and maybe a little wild. Going there gave me relief, pleasure, and contentment. It didn’t make a lot of difference if I was hunting, fishing, or just kicking around. The outdoors helped mold me as a person.

Looking back at my introduction to hunting, the lessons learned were invaluable. I never became a skilled woodsman, but I knew more than most city slickers. I never became a crack shot, but on a good day I was adequate. I grew up hunting small game and waterfowl but never graduated to hunting either deer or turkeys. I never found it necessary or wanted to spend the time learning the skills needed to be successful at it. However, I did learn responsibility, trust, honesty, and respect. I learned about conservation and the role hunters play in conserving our natural resources. I learned the proper care and use of firearms. I learned what happened when basic safety rules aren’t followed. Learning to hunt with my father was my first ethics class. I learned the responsibilities I had to the animals I hunted and the rules of fair play. I quickly identified the importance of respecting property owners and the land they allowed me to use. I learned to observe nature and appreciate the environment. My dad taught me by example and well, I think.

In this day and age where instant satisfaction is expected, it’s hard to recruit new hunters. I brought up all three of my kids to be hunters but evidently didn’t do a great job. Two out of three are still gun enthusiasts, but none hunt at the moment. That’s unfortunate because it only takes one generation for a family of hunters to become a family of non-hunters. The bottom line is that special youth seasons, apprentice hunting licenses, and any other incentive used to get young people into the field are necessary to give the future of hunting any chance of surviving. Without hunting as a management tool, not only will our wildlife resources suffer but also the habitat they need to survive. That’s not something society can or should tolerate.