Enjoy the Journey

By John Muckerman

(Reprinted with permission of the Outdoor Guide Magazine, 505 S. Ewing, St. Louis, MO  63103)

Hunting is one of those pastimes that can provide immediate enjoyment for the beginner, while at the same time offering a potential lifetime of challenge and adventure. It’s like the proverbial stream, shallow enough to allow for the novice to wade and frolic, yet deep enough to permit the experienced veteran to dive, swim and never touch bottom. Many consider the quest to improve their hunting skills as one of the most fulfilling aspects of the sport.

   Imagine a program that encourages youth to not only learn basic hunting skills, but also emphasizes hunter safety and sportsmanship. Imagine a program that includes all aspects of hunting skills, a program that develops well-rounded, well-trained, ethical hunters. Imagine a competition that provides camaraderie while testing marksmanship and responsibility skills at a state and international level. Imagine a program that could build a lasting bond between you and your child. By the way, this program could also help insure the future of hunting as a legal, accessible pastime.

   The program that offers all this and more is the Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC); and, as far as I’m concerned, it was godsend for my son and me.

   My son, Nick, was barely out of diapers when he developed an interest in hunting. That interest quickly grew into a healthy passion. The challenge for me was to educate my son in hunter safety, help him develop effective hunting skills, instill a code of ethics and somehow fuel his insatiable passion to hunt.

   Nick and I heard about the Youth Hunter Education Challenge from Jan Morris, the NRA Missouri state YHEC coordinator. YHEC participants take part in eight events simulating the most true-to-life hunting conditions possible, from firing at life-size game targets with rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders and bows to going afield learning techniques of wildlife identification and testing their map-and-compass and hunter safety skills. The competition tests skills and knowledge that all responsible hunters should develop.

   The 2001 Missouri YHEC event will take place in Jefferson City at the United Sportsman’s Club on June 23-24. Although the two-day competition is our destination, I’m sure, as usual, the journey will be half the fun.

   Unlike some sports where the practice is pure drudgery, shooting 3D archery, sporting clays, 22-rifle and muzzleloader is not exactly work for most youth. In the past we have enjoyed countless hours practicing at local ranges. We’ve also joined archery leagues, shot 3D tournaments and registered trap shoots. We have taken classes on orienteering, hunter safety, and bowhunter safety. We’ve visited wildlife exhibits and read numerous books on wildlife identification.

   For several years, Nick was a member of a YHEC team at Arnold Rifle and Pistol Club. This helped him immeasurably and was a lot of fun as Nick received training from knowledgeable, dedicated volunteers. It also provided accountability, discipline, a great place to shoot and a chance to meet others that share a love for hunting and the shooting sports.

   There’s no way to measure the value of the friendships forged during our involvement in YHEC. A special bond exists between YHEC participants, volunteers and parents; it’s one giant brotherhood. Nick has developed friendships with YHEC participants (male and female) across Missouri, as well as around the country.

   Last year, Nick and Frank Clayton, another young man from the St. Louis area that Nick introduced to YHEC, joined forces with three friends from the Jefferson City area, Will Heymeyer, Jacob Crismon and Kevin Uballez, to form a new team, the Missouri Magnums. Nick, Will and Jacob became friends during past state and international YHEC events. They communicated throughout the year and even hunted together at times. The boys asked Kevin, a YHEC newcomer to join the team.

   Their goal was to have fun competing together and to place in the Missouri State YHEC event, as well as the International YHEC. The boys wanted to be serious contenders but they also wanted to keep a sense of balance in their approach to the competition. Nick, Will and Jacob had seen how the self-imposed pressure to which some contestants subjected themselves, robbed them of much of the fun of good, clean competition.

   The Missouri Magnums won the 2000 Missouri YHEC in June. The boys intensified their training and study in preparation for the international event in late July. Unfortunately, a hand injury made it impossible for Jacob to make the trip, and Zack Spencer, a YHEC competitor from Jefferson City, agreed to substitute for Jacob.

   The Missouri Magnums, five teens from Missouri who share a love for hunting, placed second in the NRA International Youth Hunter Education Challenge. In the 15-year history of the event, this was the first Missouri team to ever place.

   The event took place July 24 through 27 at the Tioga-Hammond Lakes area near Mansfield, Pennsylvania. During the four-day competition, the Magnums also took first place in the hunter responsibility exam and second place in the archery event. Nick took second place in the overall individual standings.

   The boy’s other goal, to have fun, was a total success. They brought home memories that will last a lifetime.

   If there had been a spirit award, it would surely have gone to the Missouri Magnums. By the end of the competition, everyone knew who the Magnums were. They chanted Magnums every time Missouri was mentioned. The Magnums went out of their way to introduce themselves to others and form new acquaintances. During the evenings, they traded commemorative pins and patches with other participants and volunteers, a YHEC tradition.  The boys took time to mentor younger kids. They even took photos to send Jacob of themselves with every attractive female contender. After they finished their events, the Magnums went fly-fishing in some of Pennsylvania’s most picturesque streams.

   The boys were overwhelmed by their accomplishment and their prizes. They spent much of the trip home planning for the 2001 International YHEC, which will be held in Raton, New Mexico at the NRA’s 37,000-acre Whittington Center. Their goal for 2001, to have fun and to win the international event.

   I shared some of this story with you to give you a taste of what YHEC can be. Whether you and your child ever decide to go on to the international competition is not the point. The journey to the state YHEC can be one of self improvement and character building. The Missouri Magnums would be the first to tell you that you don’t have to win to have fun practicing and participating in YHEC. As a father, I can tell you YHEC is an opportunity to build a special bond with your child, a bond that can last a lifetime.

   If you are interested in participating or volunteering to help in the 2001 Missouri YHEC, contact Mr. Jan Morris, NRA State Coordinator, at P.O. Box 38, Imperial, MO 63052, or call him at 314-464-6214. He can also tell you about YHEC teams and clubs around the state. The Missouri YHEC website address is: http://www.moyhec.com