How do we pass the great tradition of hunting on to the next generation? It’s a question that constantly begs attention in today’s changing world and culture. Fortunately, NRA’s Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) provides one dependable option for helping ensure the future of hunting in America.
Since its inception in 1985 when the first event was hosted at Remington Farms in Chestertown, Md., YHEC has helped more than 1.2 million children improve their hunting, marksmanship and firearm safety skills through hands-on training in multiple disciplines. Many YHEC programs receive NRA Foundation grant support that helps them to bring those valuable experiences and lessons to youth throughout the county.
“YHEC is a great experience,” shares Joel Freese. “I started participating when I was six years old, following in my siblings’ footsteps. I have come a long way since, from barely hitting paper with my .22 to becoming a pretty good shot.” Joel explains how YHEC has taught him many things, including marksmanship, sportsmanship and safety, while helping him develop diligence, dedication and responsibility. “YHEC has also helped me set goals in life,” he continues. “With the help of my coaches, I achieved my goal in 2016, becoming the YHEC National Junior Grand Champion. I have had a lot of fun and made great friends doing YHEC over the years. I wish every kid had a chance to do YHEC like me. I want to thank The NRA Foundation and my coaches for giving me the opportunity to do what I love to do.”
YHEC offers three levels of training; the local level introduces students to the basics of hunting and requires no previous experience. State events require prior completion of a hunter safety course and build on what students learn at the local event. The national YHEC event brings together top-ranked individuals from across the country to compete against each other and learn from one another to prove that they can help preserve hunting traditions in America. With so many activities to plan and promote, YHEC relies on participants and alumni sharing their experience with peers, and on dedicated volunteers who have a passion for sharing hunting with youth.
Melissa Martin from South Elgin, Ill., is one of those mentors. For the last six years she has volunteered as the Illinois State YEHC Event Director. Her family got involved with YHEC in 2011 when they were invited to attend a local event. Melissa attended with nine of her 11 children, aged one to 18 years at the time, and they all had such a great time that Melissa assisted with organizing the next year’s event. By 2013, she had become the event director. “I felt that it was too good of an opportunity for the youth in our area to let the event die,” she says. “I couldn’t say ‘no’ to taking over [leadership].”
Part of why Melissa loves this program so much is the emphasis put on safety at every step. “The safe handling of firearms is stressed repeatedly by our coaches and volunteers throughout the entire day [at each event],” she explains. “YHEC has given me a chance to help equip youth with the knowledge they need to be responsible with and around firearms.” This focus on safety is a fundamental part of the YHEC program, ensuring that all participants learn how to properly handle and use a firearm.
In her time with the program, Melissa has seen many children change and grow through participating in YHEC. She has also had the pleasure of seeing whole families bond over the experience and develop a love for hunting and the outdoors that they can enjoy together. Melissa had one mother write in about that. “My four children and I had a highly enjoyable and educationally enriching time,” reads the note. “You've helped provide an outstanding experience for us. We are growing even deeper in our appreciation for the sportsmanship, values, and activity of this type of recreation.” Melissa believes so strongly in the YHEC program because she feels that it not only builds and strengthens the foundation for future generations of hunters but also helps save lives.
“The YHEC program has given such an amazing opportunity to so many youth and families who otherwise might not ever have the chance to learn about hunting and firearm safety,” Melissa emphasizes. “With the generous support of The NRA Foundation, Friends of NRA and others, we are able to offer an unforgettable, family-friendly, fun-filled, educational day in the great outdoors—a memory that will last a lifetime! Thank you for making that possible!”
Click here to learn more about The NRA Foundation grant program and apply for funding for your hunting or shooting sports organization. Find a Friends of NRA event near you at friendsofnra.org/Events and attend to help fundraise in support of these programs!