Beyond Hunter Ed

Programs that keep kids in the field

Keith McCafferty

Congratulations, your child has passed hunter education and has a solid grounding in safety and ethics. Now what? There's so much more to learn, and the next steps are critical; as many as one-third of those who finish the class don't hunt the next year. If your young charge is all cammied up with no place to go, check out these state and private programs. -Philip Bourjaily

[BRACKET "Youth Hunts:"]
Get them hooked on hunting at its best
In my home state of Iowa, kids used to start deer hunting by tagging along with the adults in the cold of the December shotgun season, traditionally a party-hunting, lead-slinging free-for-all. Now, Iowa holds a youth season in late September. The success rate runs near 50 percent, and hunter-satisfaction rates are even higher. Youth hunts are held across the country and let kids take center stage in a calm, controlled environment, and they're all about having fun. Besides special statewide seasons for a variety of game open to kids accompanied by unarmed adults, there are also limited-draw youth hunts on selected wildlife management areas. Contact your state's Department of Natural Resources for options (fieldandstream.com/dnrsites).

[BRACKET "Competitive Shooting:"]
Set their sights on trophies
Sparking an interest in marksmanship is generally not hard to do. The challenge is to maintain it over time. Competitions like these can do the trick:

  • 4-H Shooting Sports (304-629-1809; 4-Hshootingsports.org) has grown so big it has become a stand-alone program with 300,000 participants in 50 states. You don't have to raise a pig or make a quilt to be eligible. As many as 300 young shooters attend the 4-H National Invitational for archery, rifle, shotgun, pistol, small-bore pistol, air rifle, and hunting-skills competitions.
  • The Daisy/U.S. Jaycees Shooting Education and Competition (U.S. Jaycees: 800-529-2337; www.usjaycees.org; and Daisy: 800-643-3458; daisy.com) sponsors local competitions for 250,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 14, leading up to the International BB Gun Championships, a three-position (standing, kneeling, prone) event shot with BB guns at 5 meters and air rifles at 10 meters.
  • The Civilian Marksmanship Program (419-635-2141; odcmp.com) administers three-position 10-meter air-gun matches for teams sponsored by American Legion posts; the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps; the National Guard Marksmanship Unit; Boy Scouts of America Venturing crews; 4-H Shooting Sports; and the USA Shooting Olympic program.
  • The Scholastic Clay Target Championships (203-426-1320; nssf.org), run by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, organizes trap, skeet, and sporting clays teams by school. With coaching from adult volunteers, 5,000 kids from 40 states compete seriously at the state and national levels.
  • The NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program (703-267-1505; nrahq.org) lets shooters of all ages work individually, at their own pace, to earn patches up to an "expert" level in a variety of shooting disciplines.

[BRACKET "Summer Camps:"]
Where kids become outdoorsmen
They exist for music, debate, weight loss, and golf-why not hunting? Many fish and game departments sponsor camps in conjunction with state chapters of the National Wildlife Federation, and a number of hunters' groups hold their own. Here are soome of the best:

  • Safari Club International's Apprentice Hunter Program (800-377-5399; safariclubfoundation.org) is a one-week course in hunting skills, field dressing, and gun care that culminates in an actual hunt for an exotic deer or Corsican ram. Currently, SCI runs the camps at two locations: Three Rivers, Michigan ($1,200), and Del Rio, Texas ($995; $895 for members). State SCI chapters can provide scholarships.
  • The Upland Bird Hunting Camp (218-682-2325; deep-portage.org), held at the Deep Portage Conservation Reserve in Hackensack, Minnesota, is sponsored by the Ruffed Grouse Society and Pheasants Forever. Campers take daily wingshooting practice and learn lessons in outdoor cooking, dog training, and bird habits and habitats. The six-day program costs $385.
  • Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Camps (800-450-3337; mndeerhunters.com) cover deer hunting (shooting, archery, field dressing, big-game ecology, wildlife management, and other skills) from an introductory to an advanced level. The weeklong programs are held at four locations in the state, including at Deep Portage, for $385. The MDHA maintains a scholarship fund for needy campers.
  • NRA Whittington Adventure Camps (505-445-3615; nrawc.org) teach pistol, rifle, shotgun, and muzzleloader skills, as well as orienteering, camp cooking, and trapping. Kids will burn lots of powder at the camp, held at the NRA's Whittington Center in New Mexico. Most will shoot 1,500 rounds apiece in a two-week session that costs $850.
  • The South Carolina Waterfowl Association's Camp Woodie (803-452-6001; scwa.org) holds 10 five-day sessions every summer, with instruction in conservation, calling, blind building, shooting, fishing, canoeing, and more for some 450 campers ages 8 and up. The fees are $300 for ages 8¿¿¿11 and $550 for 12¿¿¿16.