NRA YHEC Reaching Kids in the Heartland
After years of declines, the number of hunters in the United States is once again increasing.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, the number of hunters nationwide increased by 9 percent—from 12.5 million to 13.7 million—between 2006 and 2011. During that same time period, the number of youth hunters also increased from 1.6 million to 1.8 million participants—a 13 percent jump.
Similarly, between 2008 and 2009, the USFWS reported a 3.6 percent increase in hunting license sales nationally—the largest year-over-year increase since 1974.
Hunting participation is once again trending upward in large part due to programs aimed at introducing kids to hunting, shooting and the outdoors. The largest and most comprehensive of these programs is NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC), which is run by the NRA Hunter Services Department. Since its inception in 1985, more than a million youngsters have learned how to hunt safely, responsibly and ethically by participating in the YHEC program.
The success of the YHEC program and the role it has played in recruiting and retaining new hunters has not gone unnoticed. In 2010, Larry and Brenda Potterfield of MidwayUSA made a significant personal contribution to help the NRA expand YHEC in their home state of Missouri and the eight states that surround it: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
“For years, Larry and Brenda Potterfield have provided visionary support for youth shooting programs through the Potterfield Family Foundation,” said Bill Poole, Director of NRA’s Education and Training Division. “The Potterfields’ personal donation to the Youth Hunter Education Challenge program represents a significant investment towards preserving the future of the shooting sports.”
That donation, the single largest in the history of the YHEC program, has led to the creation of the YHEC Mid-America Expansion Project.
“Our goal through this initiative is to bring new hunters and shooters into the outdoors,” said Susan Hill, field coordinator for the NRA YHEC Mid-America Expansion Project. “Thanks to the generosity of Larry and Brenda Potterfield, we are reaching kids who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to learn how to hunt and shoot.”
Over the past two years, Hill and the entire Hunter Services staff have logged countless hours on the phone and on the road reaching out to youth groups and helping them to run YHEC events of their own.
“We work with any youth group with kids age 18 and under—it might be a church group, a Boy Scout group, a 4-H group, or a home-school group,” Hill said.
“Most of the kids we’re reaching are new shooters.”
Home-school groups have been especially receptive to the YHEC program, Hill said.