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By Karl J. Power
Sunday, August 1, 2004

If I could choose one thing I most agree with when it comes to Game Commission issues, it would have to be the special youth hunts.
The special hunts for squirrel, waterfowl, pheasants and turkey gobblers are great ideas that should be promoted. There is even a very popular early-season for young hunters who wish to take an antlerless deer.

If it were not for dedicated adult sportsmen who care about the future of the outdoors sports, the "second generation" of hunters might never arrive.

And still, the number of licensed hunters is dropping at a steady rate. The number of licensed hunters has not dropped at an alarming rate -- yet -- but if we don't start getting ahead of the sinking trend now, in a few decades the future of hunting might be extremely grim.

Our fathers introduced most hunters to the sport -- including many kids from non-hunting families.

I know a few hunters who did not get involved in hunting until they were in their 20s, and they did so pretty much on their own. In fact, one of the editors of a Pennsylvania outdoors publication is from a family in which nobody else hunted. He didn't get his first hunting license until he was in his mid-20s because that's when he could afford a gun.

First-time hunters are required to pass a certified hunter-trapper safety education course before purchasing a hunting license.

Now is the time to enroll first-year hunters in one of these courses -- and it's not a bad idea for the "seasoned" hunters to listen closely and take a "brush-up" course as well.

The special youth hunting opportunities available to young sportsmen are valuable -- and while the days are limited, every young hunter should take advantage of the opportunity.

This spring, the first early spring gobbler season for junior hunters was a great success with many bearded birds falling to the young hunters.

Nothing encourages young hunters to stick with it more than early success. The removal of antler restrictions for young hunters also is a great idea.

I don't care how much the adults say, "It's all about being there and enjoying a day in the woods," the kids want to score on the game they hunt -- and that's what keeps them interested.

I only wish every special youth hunt were scheduled to last a week -- like the extended squirrel hunt.

That would make them special.

For the most part, the responsibility of taking young hunters afield lies on the shoulders of the adult hunters -- in most cases, the parent.

However, the special youth pheasant hunt day is helped along tremendously by local sportsmen's clubs who take the time to have pheasants stocked on the property, get dog handlers to bring their dogs to hunt and point the birds.

Most of these club members spend a lot of time and effort in planning an event that makes each youth pheasant hunt special.

A number of the clubs registered with the Game Commission to conduct the special hunts go as far as to have "loaner" shotguns on hand -- and even free ammunition for the kids who don't bring a shotgun.

The sportsmen's clubs and the dedicated members that sponsor special youth hunts on their association properties are the true champions of the small-game hunting heritage.

Some sportsmen's clubs don't have the property or facilities to conduct a special pheasant hunt for kids, but they still have many other options for youth involvement, such as hosting a youth field day event.

But at the very least, I believe all individual sportsmen should make an effort to encourage youngsters to get involved in hunting -- and take them one-on-one on a youth hunt for squirrels, deer, pheasant, or gobblers.

You'll do a lot for the kids and a lot for yourself.

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