This August I attended the 30th International Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC). This annual competition includes eight hunting-related events, which determine the best of the best in youth hunting skills and responsibility. This year’s event hosted more than 340 competitors.
According to a survey of the 2014 YHEC participants, 79 percent of them have purchased a hunting license in their home state and 23.6 percent have purchased hunting licenses in other states. This just goes to show that these aren’t just competitors—they’re hunters who are taking their experiences into the field.
As the competition played out before us, a friend asked me, “What do you think those young hunters wish their guides told them prior to their first hunting experience?”
I pondered the question and honestly couldn’t answer it. So, I decided to ask some of the young hunting gurus about their first time chasing game.
Senior competitor, Kory England of Arkansas, first went hunting when he was eight years old and at nine he began competing in YHEC.
Kory was extremely excited to pursue whitetail deer. On his first successful hunt, he and his uncle sat in the stand for about an hour before a deer walked out and Kory took his shot.
I asked Kory “Is there anything you wish your dad or uncle told you before you went on your first hunt?”
Kory solidly responded, “Nope.”
Kory had hunted with his dad several times before he’d ever even carried a gun. His dad said the challenge was keeping Kory quiet. “Well, I loaded him up and put his hunter orange on and we went [out]. We just didn’t stay very long sometimes, if my boys got bored. Once the boys got old enough to carry a gun, I let them hunt,” Kory’s dad said when asked how he kept his sons silent.
Junior competitor, Hunter Fulmer of Pennsylvania, has been competing in YHEC and hunting for six years.
Hunter first went on a turkey hunt with his dad and older brother, and the trio waited behind a blind in the middle of a cornfield. After three or four hours, Hunter had just about run out of patience when his dad said, “Let’s give it 15 or 20 more minutes.” Just as they were about to leave, a gobbler came out at the edge of the field and headed toward their decoy spread.
“Is there anything you wish Dad told you before you went on your first hunt?” I asked him.
Hunter responded “No. It went nice and smooth.”
Hunter said that turkey hunt “was the time of my life.” He declared the hunt went without a hiccup, except for his waning patience. However, his father’s tolerance and knowledge allowed the youngsters to relax and move about as needed, in the blind. When the action began to happen, the protégées knew exactly what to do, they quickly and quietly settled. Hunter shot that gobbler and has been successful at hunting more turkey, whitetail and upland birds since.
Senior competitor Joe-Z Jones and Junior competitor Pazlie Jones, are brother and sister from Oklahoma. Joe-Z Jones has been competing in YHEC for five years and hunting since he was seven years old. He’s pursued whitetail deer, turkey, dove, rabbit, squirrel and coyote, and has done his part helping control the feral hog population.
Joe-Z said he learned a lot during his first hunt with his dad. “I left my bullets at home, I scoped myself and I still got a small buck, so the hunt wasn't all bad.” He just wishes they had checked to make sure he had everything before they left that morning.
Joe-Z’s first archery buck is a highlight in his memorable hunts. He recalled, “It was so hot, I was shedding clothes in the blind. I looked out and saw a spike buck. Not far behind was a small 10-point. Not long after I saw those two, a 150-inch eight-point came out. I got a quartering away shot, and I drilled him.”
Joe-Z’s younger sister, Pazlie, has competed in YHEC for the past four years and has been hunting for almost as long. So far she’s hunted whitetail deer, turkey and dove.
Pazlie’s first hunt was at her Grandpa’s deer stand. They saw a doe and her two fawns so they didn't shoot, and although it was uneventful she still had fun! Pazlie told me about two of her favorite hunts: One with her dad where she shot a ten-point whitetail, and the other with her mom when a group of does came so close that she could have almost touched them.
Senior competitor, Preston McKee of New Mexico, has been competing in YHEC and hunting for nine years. You can definitely learn a thing or two from this young, veteran hunter. He’s pursued elk, mule deer, antelope, turkey, oryx, upland birds, migratory birds and many types of furbearers. He knows how to hunt, knows safety and even knows how to identify the categories of the game he chases.
On Preston’s first hunt, he recalls his dad and himself stalking a deer over 1,000 yards away. When they were within rifle range, he prepared himself and took the shot. “It was fun,” he says. “My dad and grandpa took me and they have hunted for a long time.” Preston trusted his mentors and was eager to gain from their experience. It was apparent he had no regrets or yearnings.
I asked, “Do you have any favorite memories from your hunting experiences?” I have to smile at Preston’s answer. “When I was hunting my second deer, I took with a rifle, my mom was hunting too. We finally spotted a deer and I was quicker than my mom!” he admitted proudly.
I now have an answer to my friend’s question about what young hunters wish their hunting guides informed them prior to their first experience.
It’s apparent youngsters need to be included in the hunt. Families that raise their children to hunt and be safe, raise them in a trustworthy environment. A commonality I see in the hunters’ responses is there were none who said, “I wish my dad (grandpa, uncle, mom) had told me _____.” The young hunters respected and trusted their mentors.”
They’re all active participants in YHEC so hunter safety is an obvious priority to them and their families. The parents incorporated hunting in to their lives, worked with them and trusted them. This all makes for a great first hunt.