Every year the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency adds to a wide range of programs designed to get youngsters interested and involved in the outdoors -- from special Youth Hunts for deer, turkey and elk, to interscholastic archery and trapshooting.
TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter says it is an investment in the future.
“If we have the chance to ‘bend that twig,’ then we need to seize the opportunity,” Carter says in an interview with Tennessee Wildlife Magazine. “Whether the tree grows in that direction is an individual choice, but we would be sadly remise if we never gave them that option.”
A generation ago a youngster often had a dad, uncle or other family member to take him or her hunting, fishing and camping. Nowadays that’s not always the case. Also, kids these days have a myriad of entertainment options competing for their attention.
“As the demographics in this country change at an unprecedented pace, we face a competition for time and interest that is enormously challenging,” Carter says. “The science of wildlife management will have continuity through our colleges and universities. However, the traditions and importance of hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing do not have such a clear path."
The National Scholastic Clay Target Program (TNSCPT) is an example of a youth program that is rapidly growing in popularity and participation. Thousands of school-age youngsters are taught shooting skills and firearm safety, and engage in state-wide competitions.
“The great thing about competitive shooting is that, unlike many other sports, any kid is able to participate,” says instructor Ben Schade of Lebanon. “They don’t have to be big or tall, fast or strong, or otherwise especially athletic. If a youngster is dedicated and willing to work at it, he or she has the potential to become a skilled shooter and compete on state, regional and national levels. It’s a good, wholesome activity, and I’m thrilled to see more and more young people getting involved.”
The interscholastic shooting programs help diffuse negative perceptions of firearms and gun owners sometimes portrayed in the media.
“These are the finest, most responsible young people you’ll ever meet,” Schade says. “They represent the best of the best.”
college professors, shooting coaches and other experts in the various fields.
“We live in an increasingly urbanized society and a lot of kids don’t have as many outdoor opportunities as kids did in the past,” says Don Crawford, the TWRA Chief of Information and Education. “Kids nowadays have so many things going on, which means we’re competing for their time and attention.”
One measure of outdoors interest among youngsters is Hunter Education classes. Anyone born after 1969 must complete a TWRA-approved class before getting a hunting license. In recent years, between 12,000 and 13,000 young Tennesseans annually have completed the classes.
“Those numbers are encouraging,” Crawford says. “We rank ahead of most states.”
The Hunter Education grads represent only future hunters; many more youngsters are involved in non-hunting outdoor pursuits.
“It’s been my experience that kids become increasingly interested in outdoor activities once they get started,” Crawford says. “All they need is the opportunity.”