With the unofficial South Dakota state holiday of Pheasant Opener a week behind us, I want to look at ways to be safe as we introduce the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts to hunting resources. I remember as a young boy getting to shoot my grandpa’s gun for the first time. It is one of my fondest memories. Hunting trips with family and friends have filled my memories with unforgettable tales. Nevertheless, as I think about these things and see internet pictures of people getting their kids outdoors at an early age, we must remember to review safe practices.
Safe Hunting Practices
Before I even attained a hunting license, I went through a South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Hunter Safety course. I still remember the game warden was Ben Chambers, and I went to the Izaak Walton clubhouse by Toronto, South Dakota. The hunter safety course is a tremendous learning experience to get you ready for the first time you hold a real license. However, many young hunters experience their first pheasant hunt as a child while toting a BB gun alongside adults. Did we really understand safety at that moment, or were we simply modeling what we saw the adults do that day? If it is modeling, our adults need to make sure to model correct safety practices.
When you take youth into the field, remember to consider their needs as you prepare for the day. Their legs are not as long so keeping track of them can be a challenge in taller habitat. Proper identification and location of your hunting party is extremely important. Additionally, youth may get cold faster, so proper clothing and length of time exposed to the outdoors (especially in extreme weather conditions) needs careful consideration. Hearing protection is something that should be started at an early age. You should also reinforce patterns and safety rules for individuals and groups on a regular basis. Remember, youth look up to adults so we have a responsibility to model good safety practices.
4-H Shooting Sports Program
SDSU Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program supports a tremendous project area called Shooting Sports. There are many disciplines to try, and there are opportunities for competitions and national trips as you progress through the program. Youth that are eight years old as of January 1st can be active members in 4-H and can start in the Shooting Sports program. The best thing about 4-H Shooting Sports is that safety is of primary focus. From the first meeting, all participants are consistently reminded that safety is the number one objective. Safety not only includes personal safety and proper handling of equipment, but youth are partnered with caring adults experienced with eight hours of training in a chosen discipline as well as four hours of youth development training. 4-H Shooting Sports is available in most counties. Call your local SDSU Extension county office to find out what disciplines are available in your county.
All youth in South Dakota can participate in 4-H Shooting Sports! Even if youth are not involved in 4-H Shooting Sports, make sure you get them involved in organizations that teach safety first and work to develop a love for the outdoors. We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful state that offers a variety of outdoor activities for every season.