My interest in fishing and hunting began long before specific opportunities we’re designed to encourage young hunters and anglers. The 1980s didn’t have youth deer, waterfowl and pheasant seasons, or special turkey licenses, just to name just a few.
I do remember that the local Jaycee’s sponsored some youth BB gun shooting events, and the local wildlife club always welcomed any kids attending activities, from planting trees on wildlife management areas to taking part in the Keep North Dakota Clean coloring contests (which, by the way, is still running today).
There was little in our house to keep a kid indoors. We didn’t have cable TV or home computers yet, but electronic games were starting to make inroads, and looking back, you can see the beginnings of a competition for recreational time.
At the same time, a population transformation was taking place in North Dakota. My hometown shrunk from more than 1,000 people to under 900 in just a few years. While those numbers aren’t staggering, it was part of a trend reflected across many towns of similar demographics, while the larger urban towns were growing.
And while many areas of North Dakota have turned the tide the past five years, the gap between kids growing up outdoors vs indoors seems to have widened.
With an understanding of the challenges to recruiting new hunters and anglers and retaining them into the future, specific youth opportunities were put into play as a means shrink that divide. And it seems to be working. While I realize many kids with a youth deer license may come from a family that would have provided an opportunity anyway, these special seasons give parents or guardians incentive to provide exposure when the focus is solely on the young hunter.
In addition to special youth seasons and licenses, North Dakota is home to dozens of different organizations that support youth wildlife programs. These are not limited to the traditional local rod and gun clubs, but include fraternal and nonprofit civic organizations as well.
Any of these types of groups are urged to submit an application for the Encouraging Tomorrow’s Hunters program, a State Game and Fish Department grant program developed to assist encouraging the next generation of hunters and shooters.
The program has grants available of up to $3,000. The program currently helps fund approximately 40 club and organizational events and projects, with an average grant of $1,550.
Grant funds help cover event expenses, including promotional printing; event memorabilia such as shirts, caps or vests; ammunition and targets, and eye and ear protection.
Past funding has enabled several groups to conduct youth pheasant and waterfowl hunts, while others have sponsored trap and other shooting events, including archery and rifle shooting. Hundreds of kids have participated in these events or outings over the past few years.
Any club or organization interested in conducting a youth hunting or shooting event can get more information, including a grant application, from the Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov, or by contacting outreach biologist Pat Lothspeich at 701-328-6332.
The deadline to apply for a 2015 grant is April 19.