By Doug Leier, NDG&F Dept.
I grew up in an era in North Dakota when special seasons for young hunters did not yet exist.
Looking back, I surely would have enjoyed the extra days afield the special youth deer, waterfowl and pheasant seasons now offer. But I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time hunting with my dad by the time I reached my middle teens, so it was pretty much a given that I would continue on as an avid hunter into my adult years.
At the time the North Dakota Game and Fish Department initiated the first youth deer season in 1994, there was a growing concern about the amount of time kids were spending – or not spending – outdoors. The youth deer season was established to provide a special time with low competition, to give kids more one-on-one time with a parent or other mentor, which might provide more opportunity for success.
And that was at a time when the internet was in its infancy, and cellphones and email were still a long way from reaching mainstream. (Side note: The March 1997 issue of North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine was the first mention of an email address for the Game and Fish Department. It was: email@example.com)
Today, we live in a time and place where competition continues to draw interest away from the heritage of hunting at a rate that would seem quite accelerated in comparison to what was occurring more than two decades ago.
As one gentleman put it very succinctly to me at a recent pancake feed, “if you lose the hunters and anglers, you are out of a job.”
Beyond the bluntness of his point, it’s very well understood the future of wildlife conservation depends on people who appreciate thriving wildlife populations, and hunters are at the top of that list. They buy licenses and equipment that generates the funding to operate state wildlife and conservation agencies, which help sustain healthy wildlife populations.
In addition to special youth hunting opportunities, the Game and Fish Department started a grant program several years ago to forge relationships with groups and organizations that can help young or new hunters learn information and skills necessary to spark an interest in hunting.
The Game and Fish Department can’t do it alone, and partnering with a network of existing organizations across the state with similar goals has worked well.
This partnership effort is called the Encouraging Tomorrow’s Hunters grant program. March is the time of year when wildlife, shooting, fraternal and nonprofit civic organizations are urged to submit applications for grants to help with costs of putting on events to help get youth involved with hunting or shooting activities.
The maximum grant allowed is $3,000. In recent years the program has helped fund approximately 40 club and organizational events and projects each year, with an average grant of $1,550.
Grant funds help cover event expenses, including promotional printing; event memorabilia such as shirts, caps or vests; ammunition and targets, and eye and ear protection.
Past funding has enabled several groups to conduct mentored youth pheasant and waterfowl hunts, while others have sponsored trap and other shooting events, including archery and rifle shooting.
Any club or organization interested in conducting a youth hunting or shooting event can get more information, including a grant application, from the Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov, or by contacting outreach biologist Pat Lothspeich at 701-328-6332.