By Kyle Jillson | December 30 2011 15:48

Kyle's Story #1 from 2011 - Youth Wildlife Art Contest

Rabbit in the Grassland by Ingrid Cai, best in show for the 2011 Youth Wildlife Art Contest on NRAblog.

The George Montgomery/NRA Youth Wildlife Art Contest requires a considerable amount of time; time for those who enter it and time for those who manage it. Personally, it eats up a good portion of my time during the fall. And on another front, it provides a stark contrast between the long hours hunkered down at my desk overseeing the contest with the busy travel schedule of spring and summer. That's why my number one story from 2011 – and probably my favorite event of the year – is the Youth Wildlife Art Contest.

I started working for the NRA in the fall of 2008. By then, the year's contest was well underway. Thrust into a room stacked high with crates of unopened envelopes, I was tasked with cataloging each and every entry in preparation for judging. The hours were long and the papercuts many, but everything was eventually sorted and looked very impressive when all was laid out for our panel of judges; a collage of North American wildlife.

Thankfully I wasn't asked to judge as narrowing down the artwork to determine a winner appeared to be impossible. Some entries stood out due to their technical superiority, but I would have considered more. After spending so much time cataloging the entries and speaking with parents and students, I understood how much hard work went into each and every piece of art. There is no way I could have been objective.

"That's the girl who asked if she should do watercolor or pencil," I would think to myself when reviewing the art. "There's the boy who wanted to know if armadillo was huntable" or "I snagged my finger on a staple from that student's packaging." A connection had been created with each entry.

The contest is over once the judging concludes ... but not really. Winning entries are framed and put on display in the National Firearms Museum. Calls of congratulations are placed to the winning students and parents are told that prize money is on the way. Last but not least; artwork is repackaged and returned in their prestamped return envelope.

The George Montgomery/NRA Youth Wildlife Art Contest was started 1987 by two NRA employees with the purpose of assisting young hunters and artists with animal identification. Acceptance of entries was limited to students in the first through twelth grades and the animal had to be trappable or huntable in North America. Entries were sorted into one of four categories based on grade so a first grader who had just picked up a pencil two years prior wouldn't go up against a senior in high school who had been doing oil paintings for two of their lifetimes.

Honorable mention from Category IV of the 2011 Youth Wildlife Art Contest on NRAblog.

This year makes it the fourth contest I have gone through and there are only a few pieces of artwork to send back. Each year things get a little smoother and we're always looking for new ways to improve the contest. We've been able to raise the prize amounts thanks to a generous endowment by the George Montgomery Foundation. We receive almost double the amount of entries compared to my first year in 2008. There are still the occasional elephant and chimpanzee entries that we must disqualify, but as a whole entrants send eligible animals.

As contests come and go you familiarize yourself with some names and see artists imrpove their techniques from year to year. Students become too old to enter and you wonder how they would fare against the newest crop of top entries. New names appear who are so talented they should have been participating for years.

The George Montgomery/NRA Youth Wildlife Contest is a lot of work, but it's fun. I couldn't do it alone. Everyone at NRAblog lends a hand when they can throughout the whole process, from mailing flyers to opening envelopes – especially when we get a flood at the deadline. 

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