Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cultivating the Next Generation of Hunter-Conservationists

About the only thing most RMEF volunteers like better than conserving elk country is getting out into it with their bow or rifle. If they can help cultivate a young hunter while they’re at it, that’s icing on the cake. 
Since 2007, RMEF volunteers from the Flagstaff and White Pine chapters in Arizona have stepped up to host or support junior hunter camps aimed at youths whose parents don’t have the skills or experience to introduce their kids to hunting, shooting and the outdoors. Through mentoring and hands-on training and instruction, the camps build skills, knowledge and confidence—and instill what RMEF volunteers hope will be the beginnings of a lifelong love for hunting and the outdoors. 

All big game hunters under the age of 14 in Arizona are required to take hunter education, and in most cases the courses are taught in a traditional classroom format. But not in Flagstaff. Instead, participants ages 9-12 attend a weekend family campout held each summer at the Northern Arizona Shooting Range east of town. Hosted by the Flagstaff Chapter, the Coconino County Campout Hunter Education Class offers instruction in survival, first aid, map and compass, an introduction to muzzleloaders and archery, blood trailing, field dressing, proper methods to cape and skin an animal for the taxidermist, wildlife identification, rules and regulations pertaining to wildlife in Arizona, safe use of firearms, types of firearms and ammunition, camp sanitation and food preparation. All students practice their shooting skills with .22 rimfire rifles on the 50-yard range, including instruction about range procedures and commands. 

RMEF Arizona State Grant funds help purchase ammo, targets and miscellaneous range and camp supplies, water and food for this popular event. In addition to teaching classes and setting up and taking down camp, RMEF volunteers also provide dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday for all students and their families. 

Because they just can’t get enough, the Flagstaff Chapter hosts a second event aimed at youths each fall at Mormon Lake—an area where excellent opportunities exist for young hunters. Coined the Unit 6A Junior Elk Hunter Information Camp, the clinic is held over four days in October for anyone who drew a junior elk tag in Unit 6A, along with their hunting parties. The first evening, RMEF volunteers present information about hunter safety, care and handling of elk carcasses, and current elk concentrations in the area before providing dinner and a drawing for raffle prizes. Volunteers then staff the camp continuously for the next three days to provide coffee, cocoa and pastries each morning and assist hunters with information about the area. 

The RMEF’s White Pine Chapter has also been doing its part by co-sponsoring the White Mountains Youth Hunter Camps, held at various locations on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Hosted by the Arizona Fish and Game Department and Youth Outdoors Unlimited, the program offers three junior hunter camps each fall (small game, antlerless elk and predator) to provide youths ages 8-17 with hands-on instruction in safety and ethics, tracking and calling game, shooting, field dressing and skinning, and conservation. A fourth camp held in the spring teaches youths interested in turkey hunting about wild turkey biology, habitat, surveying, management and translocation. RMEF Arizona State Grant funds help provide camp supplies and food for each camp, and White Pine Chapter volunteers are on hand to help staff the camps, mentor hunters, help with tracking and calling, retrieve game and cook meals. 

All told, the Flagstaff and White Pine chapters have dedicated countless hours over the past seven years to help bring more than 2,100 youths into the fold through junior hunter camps. And you can bet they’ve enjoyed every minute of it along the way.

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