Youth Hunter Education Challenge
wing samples, mammals by fur samples and skulls, turkey gender and ages by legs, tails and feathers; and deer ages by jawbones. They also had to identify various animals by the tracks they made, and by their scat, another telling characteristic animals leave behind.
The wildlife identification drills impressed Chad Strain, a YHEC student from Springfield.
"I didn't know there were so many different kinds of ducks in Missouri," he said.
The other activities of the camp covered their respective topics just as thoroughly. Students tested their shotgun skills at the Dalton Range trap and skeet area. They also displayed their .22-caliber and blackpowder target shooting skills at the firearms range. Map and compass reading skills were tested in the open areas surrounding the Training Center building. Conservation agent John Thomas tested each student on the hunter responsibility trail, then took the individual back through the route and discussed the rights and wrongs of each station. In each instance, it was learning by doing.
"YHEC provides the first step of becoming experienced at the various skills taught in hunter education," Rick Flint said. "The hands-on experience reinforces the concept of hunter education, thus interfacing the two together to develop a safe, responsible hunter."
David Brooks, one of the instructors at the Dalton Range event, said the lessons taught to young hunters at YHEC could benefit hunters of all ages.
"You might see a monster buck, but if you don't have a good shot and it's not going to be a good, clean kill, let it go," said Brooks, a Missouri Highway Patrol officer. "There's going to be another day. Those are the kinds of things we stress here."
In addition to stressing safety and ethics, YHEC gives participants a more thorough knowledge of Missouri's hunting regulations.
"This helps people who don't hunt as often," said YHEC participant Cari Trantham. "For example, they may think it's all right to go off the road and start shooting at turkeys and not know that they should only shoot the male turkey in the spring, or they might not know that they shouldn't shoot a gobbler if it's in a flock with other birds."
Besides hosting YHEC events, the Dalton Training Center, located on the 2,892-acre Bois D'Arc Conservation Area in Greene County, provides a safe facility to develop shooting skills and provide classroom activities.
"YHEC is one of those programs that benefits greatly from our multi-use facility," Flint said.
One of the purposes of the event at the Bois D'Arc Area was to spread word about the YHEC program. YHEC also publicizes its events through Missouri Department of Conservation hunter education classes. Jan Morris, the NRA's volunteer coordinator for Missouri, said this type of exposure will help YHEC grow on the state and national levels.
"One of the factors that's going to help YHEC grow is that there are a lot of kids who have an interest in hunting, but don't have a place to hunt," Morris said. "Here's a program that lets them use the same skills that are used in hunting, but they don't actually hunt. YHEC gives these individuals a chance to keep up on their skills until they have an opportunity to hunt."
YHEC events do more than give you knowledge you can use on your next hunting outing, though. In some cases, it prepares individuals for life-long careers.
"A lot of people who have gone through the YHEC program have gone on to work in careers in the wildlife field," Taylor said. "It gives participants some viable career options."
In the long run, it is helping to forge Missouri's safest, best-trained generation of hunters and firearms owners. That's a tremendous benefit not only to both hunters and non-hunters, but also to the wildlife resources they hold so dear.