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First 24 Hours at the NRA YHEC National Championship

First 24 Hours at the NRA YHEC National Championship

I sit down at the gate at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport with my iced coffee and open to the first page of Dana Loesch’s new book Flyover Nation. I’m waiting for my flight that will take me to the NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) National Championship in Mansfield, PA. 

After several hours of battling airport wifi connection and flight delays, I make it to the hotel just in time to get a good night’s sleep before the events begin the next day.

Monday morning comes a little too quickly, but I’m up bright and early and head out to the event site. I’m staying about a mile away from Mansfield University, where most of the competitors are taking over housing in the dorms. The event site, however, is about 15 minutes away at the Mill Cove Environmental Area, 250 acres of beautiful hills, streams, and woods preserved for recreation and environmental education.

As I drive out of town, I pass a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut, both with “Welcome YHEC” signs out front. I turn onto the winding back country road that will lead me to the event site. After a few miles I see a “Welcome NRA” sign out front of someone’s home. Mansfield sure has some friendly folks!

I arrive at the event site and park as soon as I see cars, assuming that parking was scarce. As I walk down the road, I check out the license plates of the other cars. Missouri, Wyoming, Louisiana, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Arkansas.

I begin to see signs for the different events. There are two main parts to NYHEC: shooting and responsibility. The shooting events consist of shotgun, muzzleloader, rifle, and archery, while the responsibility events are made up of wildlife identification, orienteering, hunter safety, and a hunter responsibility exam. Competitors may be scored individually or as a team. Teams are made up of five competitors and are grouped by age and classified as either junior or senior. 

With so many events to see, I decide to walk all the way to the furthest event and work my way back. I arrive at “Shotgun” and check my FitBit. Over one mile and there are hardly any gaps between events.

At “Shotgun” several teams are competing. I learn that states’ teams and competitors are easily identified by their different colored t-shirts. States can have multiple teams, so some states had A LOT of t-shirt pride. Shoutout to you, Louisiana! 

I watch as a boy no older than 8 years old, breaks two clays that I probably would have missed. Ten minutes in and I was already impressed.

I then make my way to “Muzzleloader” where I am blown away yet again. I’ve never shot a muzzleloader of any kind. But here before me are young experts, loading their firearms without assistance, and doing so not only correctly, but safely. 

Next up is “Rifle”, where competitors show off their skills with a .22. Each station is set for different distances and shooting positions.

The last shooting event is “Archery” which is set up as a 3D Bowhunting course throughout the woods. As I’m watching two archers start on the course, I begin chatting with the woman next to me. She is a parent from Oregon, cheering on her son and taking lots of pictures. She asks what team I’m with and I tell her I’m with NRA. She smiles and gives me a high five.

After checking out all the shooting events, I take a break and check out whats going on under all the tents. There is an area set up for lunch, a few vendors, and a Friends of NRA table selling raffle tickets with the help of local PA volunteers. The PA Game Commissioner is also there, providing information about hunting and conservation to participants and spectators. Across the way is the YHEC Store which is selling everything from t-shirts, shooting accessories, bows, and more!  

Now it’s time to head to the responsibility events.

First up, “Wild Life Identification”. This event is held deep within the woods and thankfully I brought the good camera lens so I could zoom-in. Hunters walk with the course stopping at each station to correctly identify tracks, hides, feathers, and other signs of North American wildlife.

I make my way down to the “Orienteering” and “Hunter Safety Trail” events which are side by side. However, they are both far off on separate trails where competitors and teams are joined by a proctor. At “Orienteering”, hunters ditch their smartphones and GPS, and are tested on their ability to navigate a course utilizing a map and compass. Next door, the “Hunter Safety Trail” places competitors in various hunting situations where they demonstrate their knowledge of proper hunter safety.

The only event not on site, is the "Hunter Responsibility Exam”. All competitors will cycle through the other seven events throughout the week, but they will all take the exam tonight at the same time.

I arrive at the end of the events just in time for the sky to open up. Cue downpour.

So I head back to the hotel to take shelter from the storm and get ready for another day at the NRA YHEC National Championship.

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