Leave a Legacy: Fight for your kids' eroding hunting future

By Brad Herndon

This was the hunt we had been waiting for. Our 11-year-old granddaughter, Jessica "The Rascal Girl," and her dad, Mr. Curt, had been tagging along with me on deer hunts from time to time since Jessica was five. She had even been in on a couple of doe kills. But today was different from past hunts. This time Jessica was carrying the weapon: a muzzleloader in .50 caliber.

I had cut the stock down on the gun to a 12-inch length of pull and it was loaded with one 50-grain pellet and a 250-grain sabot bullet. A red-dot scope made it easy for her to aim. It was a gun she could shoot comfortably, and Jessica, Mr. Curt and I were full of excitement as we slipped into a ground blind on the eastern side of one of our food plots. As the perfect west wind pulsated against our blind, I was sure the Imperial Whitetail Clover and Pure Attraction in the plot would pull in deer and give us some action. I was right. Well before dark, we saw a deer’s back at the southern end of the plot. “This might turn out to be Jessica’s first deer,” I thought.

When the deer raised its head, it carried a small rack. Soon it browsed to within 40 yards of us. Within minutes, three more small bucks joined the first one. It was at that time a neighbor started his motorcycle to see how loud it would sound without a muffler. At the roar of the engine, the bucks headed for the timber.

When things quieted down, three of the bucks returned and stood in front of us from 34 to 45 yards. Then the rain started — a torrential downpour. None of the three bucks moved a step. We watched them until the rain let off right before dark, enabling us to make our escape to the vehicle without getting drowned.

This just described hunt was made in Indiana this past fall during our early two-day youth season in September. The hunt was set up perfectly, and we had a great time even though we didn’t get a deer. And the reason Jessica didn’t get a deer wasn’t because she wanted a bigger buck — or because I wanted her to get a trophy deer. Her tag wasn’t filled, quite unbelievably to all of us, because youths aren’t allowed to shoot an antlered deer during Indiana’s early two-day youth

Although we all would have been excited for The Rascal Girl to get a doe, one never showed up, so we each thought it would have been great for her to get a crack at one of those bucks. I have explained this in detail because laws such as this are a direct detriment to recruiting new hunters. And believe me, there are numerous laws now in effect in several states that work against recruiting youngsters into the sport. For example, until recently, New York youths had to be 16 years old before they could firearm hunt for deer. On the plus side, New York now has a Junior Mentoring Program for 14- and 15-year olds that allows them to hunt during bear and deer firearms seasons with a parent, legal guardian or someone at least 21 who is designated in writing on a form. Mentors must have a license and three years of hunting experience. The youth and mentor must be together, stay on the ground (no tree stands) and wear required hunter orange.

While this is an improvement, let’s face the facts. By age 14, young people can be wrapped up in a variety of other interests, such as 900 channels of TV, video games, texting, and other electronic gadgets to the point hunting is of no interest to them. Youth participation in hunting declined by 26 percent from 1990 to 2000. The youth participation figure has stabilized somewhat, but it’s sad to realize that only 25 percent of children from hunting households now participate in hunting today. Our hunter recruitment figure is .69 nationwide (New York’s is .55). In other words, for every 100 hunters who pass away in the future, only 69 hunters will replace them.


Unless hunters get actively involved in the legislative process, there will be more laws passed in the future that will not only curtail our youth’s ability to hunt, but in some cases destroy it. Last year, People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals sent a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell calling for a hunting ban for everyone younger than 18. They did the same in November 2008 in Arizona.

The Humane Society Of The United States continues its fight against the Families Afield initiative, calling it one of the “Ten worst hunting ideas.” Families Afield is a pro youth hunting Web site of the National Shooting Sports Foundation that works hard to promote youth and family hunting and has great statistics to back up the wholesome value derived from families hunting together. I have listed the Web site in an accompanying sidebar.

Getting politically involved in lobbying for youth recruitment into the hunting sports might not have been what you expected out of the first part of this article. Fighting for your children’s hunting future in this way involves lots of your time, might take some money and without doubt will involve opposition and frustration.

Like you, I don’t like this type of involvement; I just want to go hunting. However, I’m willing to spend my time, money and energy because I not only want Jessica and her sister, Hannah, to be able to hunt with me while I’m still able. I want their children to be able to go hunting in the future with their grandfather, Mr. Curt.

Raising children is something we have no experience in doing. Yet we have to do it, and we better get it right for we only have one opportunity. That’s why it’s important to expose our children to all the aspects of life that are ethically and morally correct. Hunting, fishing, church, school, bird watching, traveling to other states, gardening, photographing, hiking — the list could go on. One item I didn’t mention, though, is sports, and in this day and age, sports rule in the lives of many youngsters — and families.

Although I have always liked sports and participated in them while in school, the old saying “moderation in all things” also applies to sports. Today, children start at an early age in softball, baseball, golf, tennis, track, soccer, swimming, volleyball, dancing, gymnastics, wrestling, cheerleading, basketball, rodeo, field hockey, football and more. Many children now participate in several sports, and it can consume family time to the point where it is harmful.

I happen to be a Christian, and schools used to be careful to keep Wednesday nights free for church activities. Likewise, in the past, ball games and other sporting events were rarely, if ever, held on Sunday mornings. All this has changed. It’s typical in our church, and other churches in our region, for children, parents, and grandparents to be attending ball games or other sporting events instead of going to church. As the heading said, sports rule.

Perhaps you don’t attend church and are wondering how what I have just said might apply to you. Well, I can assure you that an excess of sports can turn a hunting family into one that rarely, if ever, hunts. For example, a couple of years ago, a youngster down the road killed his first turkey; a dandy 3-year-old tom. His dad called me up and asked if I would take a picture of his son with his big gobbler. Of course I was glad to do so.

After we had taken the pictures, his dad told me how his son was involved in a variety of sports and did well at all of them. I marveled at what he said next. “The other day my son said that we hardly ever go hunting and fishing together anymore, that he was always playing sports," he said. "‘Dad,’ he said, ‘I’m going to quit everything but football so we can do more hunting and fishing together again.’”

That boy is my hero! And this true example shows exactly what can happen in a hunting family when sports rule over everything else. Children can play sports and have fun, but there must be limits set. And although many sports can even be played and enjoyed into adulthood, few sports can be played and enjoyed into a person’s 50s, 60s or even 70s like hunting can.

If what I have said regarding sports applies to your family, evaluate your situation and see how it is affecting your family life. If you truly want your children to become hunters, you have to set aside ample time for them to spend in the woods. Moderation in all things.


The first two points of this article have been frank and strong. I believe, however, that both needed to be addressed in this article, or it would be another fluff piece without much merit. Now — and “thank goodness," you might be saying — we come to the more enjoyable part of hunter recruitment: instilling the desire to hunt in our youth.

Without doubt, the more youth are exposed to nature, the more of them will become hunters in the future. It’s important, though, to expose them to the entirety of nature, just not one aspect of the outdoors such as deer hunting. And the earlier you take them outside to enjoy the thrills of the wild, the more enjoyment they will derive from the experience and the more apt they will be to become hunters.

Although my dad was a hunter and started me out on rabbit and squirrel hunting at an early age, he wasn’t a patient person. Hunting and shooting was what he was about, and he didn’t explain much else about nature to me. My mother and grandmother, on the other hand, were extremely patient with me. They just loved to be outdoors and dragged me along wherever they went.

They were the ones who taught me to truly love the outdoors. I learned wildflower names from them, how to identify trees and where the mushrooms popped up each spring. And they were two of the greatest gatherers I’ve ever been around. They taught me when to go afield and gather serviceberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, dewberries, blackberries, hazelnuts, paw paws, hickory nuts, wild grapes and much more. They would even help me dig worms and would pitch right in on fish and rabbit cleaning.

I might add they were great cooks, too, and I was the happy recipient of delicious food they created from nature until they passed away a few years ago. On my 15th birthday, my mother fried up some squirrel and made a quantity of biscuits and gravy, and a few of my friends and I sat down for a “pioneer” meal. This past February, we had our 52nd consecutive Herndon’s Pioneer Dinner, all because of something my mother, Doris Herndon, started many years ago.

We now actually rent a building for this great feast of foods caught, killed, or gathered from the land, and many people attend. Most of them are hunters. I use this pioneer dinner example because enthusiasm, dedication and a vast knowledge of hunting and gathering are what have been responsible for the dinner’s longevity. And the same will be true for hunting. Be enthusiastic, make sure you have a varied interest and knowledge of all aspects of nature, hunting and fishing, and odds are many young people you are associated with will end up hunting and enjoying the outdoors.


One of most successful programs to introduce boys and girls to the shooting sports is the National Archery In The Schools Program. Started in a few schools in Kentucky in 2002, it has ballooned to the point where it is currently used by schools in more than 40 states and more than one million school-age girls and boys will participate in the program this year. Thirty-eight percent will want to try bow-hunting after they complete the course. That is impressive, and it all started with an idea.

In this program, young people use a Genesis bow (invented by Matt McPherson, the Bill Gates of archery) that is low-noise and low-recoil, yet accurate and powerful enough for the arrow to stick in the target. Almost an equal number of boys and girls shoot these bows, and even someone in a wheelchair can participate in the sport.

This is an ideal way to get children involved in shooting and hunting, and this usually will result in them taking up hunting involving firearms. I know it’s been said forever, but don’t start a child out with a gun that kicks too much. My dad bought me a single-shot Winchester Model 37 12-gauge when I was very small, and I believe I might have quit hunting if he hadn’t handed over his double-barreled 16-gauge shotgun to me shortly there- after. That Model 37 just crushed me every time I shot it, and it scared me to death. There are many low impact guns on the market, so be sure and start children out with these firearms so shooting will be enjoyable for them — not something to be dreaded.

Actually, an excellent way to start children out shooting is to put a BB gun, air rifle or .22-caliber rifle in their hands. I had a BB gun when I was very small and saved every penny I could to purchase more BBs. It was a blast. Of course, air rifles are awesome today and have no recoil. And a .22 is flat out fun to use to shoot targets, tin cans or walnuts off of trees in safe areas. That .22 rifle is also an outstanding firearm to break children into small-game hunting for squirrels. The weather is warm in squirrel seasons; it’s a great opportunity to teach them about various aspects of nature. There is plenty of action, and squirrels are excellent eating.


The year when our granddaughter Hannah "The Rascal Gal" celebrated her 8th birthday, Grandmom Carol and I drove the two hours to Lafayette, Ind., to attend the big event. Our gift to Hannah was a minnow trap. Yes, a minnow trap — certainly a wild idea.

Interestingly, when The Rascal Family came down a few weeks later, guess what Hannah had with her? Oh yes, the minnow trap. We all had the most fun putting out and baiting the minnow trap in a small creek. And, naturally, we were all excited a few hours later when we discovered we had trapped a bunch of minnows! During the same day, we also skipped rocks on a small lake and enjoyed hiking and other activities. A few weeks later, the grandgirls called, excited, to tell us about a three-hour splashing wade they had made with mom and dad down Wildcat Creek near their home. They were now hooked on creeks — and minnows too.


The future of hunting is in our hands. Just as the farmer says, the world is six months away from starvation if one year’s crop would fail. Likewise, hunting is just one generation from eroding significantly if we
don’t do our part to grow and harvest the crop we have been entrusted with: our children.

Therefore, I urge you to make a pledge to fight for legislation on a local, state and national level that will ensure the youth of today will have the opportunity to hunt if they desire to do so — and at a young age. Second, evaluate the sports situation. Make sure you allow plenty of time for your children to spend in the “sport” of hunting.

And last, be enthusiastic about all of nature and encourage everyone you know to enjoy the great outdoors in every aspect. And last, make time to take a youngster hunting. Use your life to leave more than your name on a gravestone. Leave a legacy.

Take Care of the Details >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

a) Being of geezer age, I didn’t have the advantage of warm clothes or boots to wear when I started hunting nearly 60 years ago. I almost froze to death, and it was no fun. Be sure you know how to dress youngsters warmly so they can enjoy their hunts to the fullest. They will stay out longer, experience more success and be rearing to go again. And that is what we want.

b) While afield, explain everything you know about nature to the child who is with you. The sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west. So does the moon. That sound you hear is a squirrel barking. And the list goes on.

c) Don’t put your standards on your children. Your minimum whitetail standard might be a 140-class buck. Your children just want to shoot a deer.

d) Always remember that safety comes first. Broadheads are sharp, so be careful. Never point the muzzle of the barrel at anyone. Calm yourself, and absolutely Identify your target before shooting. Wear a safety harness when in a tree stand. Be extra careful when ascending or descending to or from a stand. We all still need to hear this advice.

e) Let youngsters try all types of hunting, from small game to big game, from dove to deer. Waterfowl hunting, for instance, could turn out to be what they enjoy most. The point is, regardless of their field of interest, they will be enjoying nature and the sport of hunting.

We Can Make a Difference >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
The Indiana DNR, along with some of the state’s hunting organizations, generally agreed on the rules for the state’s first youth seasons. The original rules, it should be noted, stated that children had to pass a hunter education course before they could obtain a youth license, and that antlered deer could not be taken during the early youth deer hunt in September. It didn’t take long to see those rules were a mistake.

It took time, but Indiana youth can now obtain an apprenticeship license without passing the hunter education course. Three apprenticeship licenses can be purchased in a lifetime, so this allows a young hunter to hunt for three years before passing their hunter education course. A good law change, thanks to the DNR and the hunters of Indiana who were involved. And, as of Dec. 3, 2009, youth hunters younger than 18 in Indiana will be permitted to take an antlered deer during the early youth deer hunt in September. Another great rule change.

Also, starting in 2009, Wisconsin’s new mentoring hunting law allowed hunters as young as 10 years of age with or without hunter education certification to participate in the youth gun deer hunt with a mentor. This is a two-year improvement for youth hunting, but in my opinion, the age to start hunting should be determined by the parents or other legal guardian. Still, there are improvements in hunting regulations being made because concerned outdoorsmen and women are taking action to make sure future generations have the right to hunt from a legislative standpoint. We all must do our part to help. Get involved!

Helpful Hunter Recruitment Websites >>>

a)www.familiesafield.org National Shooting Sports Foundation.

b) http://www.nwtf.org/ National Wild Turkey Federation.

c) http://www.nra.org/ National Rifle Association.

d) http://www.ussportsmen.org/ U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance.

e) http://www.pope-young.org/ The Pope & Young Club.

f) http://www.boone-crockett.org/ The Boone & Crockett Club.