"It's a responsibility for us to instill a sense of connection with the outdoors with our youth because, in today's mechanized and electronic society, there's less and less of that," said Dodd Clifton, marketing coordinator for Realtree Outdoor. "There's a value both emotionally and spiritually, and yet we've removed children from it."
"Hunting teaches kids self-reliance, independence and a love for nature far beyond hunting," added Tom Hughes. "It gets kids back in the woods, and we really need to embrace that philosophy."
Texas has become a proponent of that philosophy over the past decade, exporting its youth hunting initiative, the Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP), to Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
The program's stated mission is to preserve hunting heritage through youth hunts. Over the past 11 years, the state has organized some 1,200 youth hunts, taken about 12,000 kids hunting and exposed 36,000 people to hunting and the outdoors.
"The thing we want them to appreciate most is the value of preserving our wildlife and environment, and that hunting has a role in maintaining healthy populations of wildlife," said Jerry Warden, director of the TYHP. "If they harvest something, they need to have a reason for it, not just go hunting because hunting is fun."
The program's progress shows in survey results in which 94 percent of participants considered themselves hunters after they completed the program. Eighty percent went on at least three hunts after participating.
All of this is good news for organizations like Families Afield, which has met with limited success in targeted states.
"If we can't hunt with our kids, we're missing more than sharing a great tradition with our children and grandchildren," said Rob Keck, CEO of NWTF, in a Families Afield statement. "We're missing a chance to cultivate a lifestyle and passion that our country needs more than ever."
That sentiment is echoed by hunters all over the nation, who look forward to hunting season as an opportunity to experience the outdoors as a family. Tim Young doesn't just take his 13-year-old son with him--he brings his 11-year-old daughter and his wife, too.
"It's just an amazing experience to take the kids hunting with you and see them get excited about the littlest of things that we take for granted," said Young.
"It really wakes you up a little bit to see it through their eyes."
For more information or to find youth hunting opportunities near you, visit:
Families Afield - www.FamiliesAfield.org
National Shooting Sports Foundation - www.NSSF.org
National Wild Turkey Federation - www.NWTF.org
U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance - www.USSportsmen.org
Texas Youth Hunting Program - www.TYHP.org