I teach at a small semi-rural middle school and sort of fell into starting a youth outdoor club when I invited our local conservation police officer to come speak to some kids who were hanging out in my class during lunch to talk about shooting and hunting. When he left my room, he looked me square in the eye and told me we had to start a club for those who did not have an outlet for the outdoors. Twelve years later, demand is high and we have put hundreds of kids through hunter education, introduced them to safe firearms handling, and mentored them on many hunts that resulted in first deer, geese, ducks, rabbits and turkeys.
With the right attitude and a little work, anyone can have the satisfaction of giving back to our hunting and shooting heritage. The first thing to do is gauge how much time you can offer, and gather some trusted and like-minded friends. Meet and decide what skills you want to focus on and what age group. Next, decide who in your group has the proper training to train others. The NRA offers a number of firearms instructor courses. State game and fish agencies also frequently offer hunter education instructor training courses free of charge. Take these courses so that you are best prepared to properly and safely assist others.
The next step is to gain some partnerships. Depending on where you are located, schools often are very receptive to clubs. Obviously firearms will not be welcome on school grounds, but hunter education courses can be taught after school hours and other informative meetings can be held there too, which makes it easy on kids and parents to attend.
A partnership with your local conservation police officers and game and fish agencies is a huge help. Clubs like this benefit all--especially the state agencies, because they rely on hunting and fishing license sales. Local officers know of others you can partner with and they may have contact information for trusted individuals with skills your group may be short on.
Don’t overlook conservation groups such as NWTF, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl etc. Some of these groups can offer insurance coverage for events if you let them sponsor the event to get credit for doing some R3 work!
Local businesses are gold when it comes to such clubs. Gun shops and shooting clubs often welcome an opportunity to sponsor, fund or assist in mentoring youth at events you are holding. You can rarely have too much help when shooting or hunting!
Funding is going to be critical to doing events and keeping attendance up. We ran our club on donations and out of our pocket at first, and took a few kids shooting and taught them to hunt ourselves. You can certainly do that and be very successful. If you can get a few friends that you trust to help you, then all the better. However, if you plan on taking kids shooting a lot, getting them plenty of practice shooting, or you want to run some high-quality youth hunts, you will need sponsors or other sources of funding.
Funding can come from some of your partners. We have had activities funded up to $500 per event by conservation organizations. Local gun shops can donate clays and shells, and if you happen to live near a gun manufacturer or know their marketing people, you can sometimes get guns donated for kids. Sometimes game and fish agencies have R3 initiatives or coordinators who know of funding that can be tapped. The NRA Foundation has grants that are awarded on an annual basis. Another resource might be local 4H organizations, if you are willing to be a leader for 4H and start a shooting club for them.
One other way we were able to help fund our club is by holding a youth outdoor banquet. We had a friend of ours who was very familiar with running banquets for a conservation organization organize ours. We gathered donated outdoor items from businesses and raffled and auctioned them off, had a local caterer donate his time and some food for the kids and families, and got the location (a church hall) donate use of their facilities if we cleaned up well.
Some of the donated items included outdoor artwork, gun dog supplies, custom guns, local agricultural products such as honey, handmade outdoor themed blankets and quilts, and so on. We raised a few thousand dollars to restock our ammo, buy a few needed firearms, and do some repairs on firearms and gear. We also had enough funds to plan on planting a dove field on one of our leases to introduce the kids and parents to that style of hunting this fall.
Finally, once you get your club going, consider applying for a 501c, as that can enhance donations of goods and funds. Many businesses will donate if they know it can be a tax write-off!
A few other things we learned along the way that have helped us immensely include keeping a roster of contact information of both youth and parents along with any allergies or medical information that is deemed important. We also keep insurance on our events to protect ourselves and are highly selective of which youth can participate.
We are clear about our rules. The rare times we have asked some to not come back weren't pleasant, but safety is always paramount. So, do not be afraid to do the right thing for the benefit of all. Along that same line of thinking, we are very selective about who we ask to help us at events. If we do not know the person very well, we have references give us insight on whether they have had any negative encounters with the law, how they work with the public, particularly kids, and what skills they have with firearms and instruction even if they are simply an extra set of eyes on range day.
One of the big things we have always done for the kids was include them in set-up and break-down of our hunts and shooting events. When it is clean-up time, they help. If they have skin in the game, they are more likely to care about the equipment and value what we are doing for them. We also encourage our kids to keep coming back even in high school or college and start mentoring others. This keeps the club young and it helps us older folks see the benefits of our labor too!
This year, consider using your talents to help start a youth shooting or hunting club in your area!