Kids and Guns, A link to the natural world

youth huntGuns are all over the news these days—and not in a good way. So, it may come as a surprise for folks in some parts of the country to learn that the State of Georgia is putting guns in the hands of kids. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has a Hunt & Learn program that provides an educational experience for those with little of no hunting experience. This includes youth between the ages of 12 and 17. The program teaches about hunting & conservation, hunting tactics, how to identify the various game species, and hunter safety.

According to the DNR website, the mission of the Hunt & Learn Program is to provide a conservation-based learning experience for new hunters that places emphasis on the future development of safe and ethical hunting skills.

Shotguns as tools

IMG_20190130_101344706As the driver of a mule wagon at a quail hunting plantation, I have an uncommon appreciation for people who apply safe and ethical hunting skills—especially when it comes to the use of firearms. Most people I hunt with use shotguns. Their guns rest in a wagon box for the hunters who ride with me and in saddle scabbards for the horseback riders. I don’t handle the guns, so they are a bit of a mystery, but when you are around them as much as I am, you can’t help but draw some conclusions.

I have concluded, for example, that shotguns aren’t really guns—not like we-need-to-get-guns-off-the-street guns. They are tools. They are works of art. They can be family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. To the serious hunter, a shotgun is more than just a gun.

In addition to the guns, I’ve also come to appreciate the art of shooting—especially with the break-down double-barreled gun. Two shots, that’s all you get. Shoot, break, eject, reload, and shoot. It’s like an exquisitely choreographed dance. I’ve seen it a thousand times, and it never gets old. I love the thrill of a double (when a person hits a bird with each of his two shots). Even more special is when someone hits two birds with one shot—probably just luck, but fun to watch, none-the-less.

IMG_20190130_101551971_HDRAs I note in my book, the guests I meet on my wagon are, for the most part, enthusiastic sportsmen. They love shooting the way some people love golf, even to the point of cheering the well-placed shot. Most of them are more like me than I ever suspected. They are naturalists at heart. They may fly-in on private jets and carry shotguns that cost more than a new car, but they still marvel at the vultures that soar overhead, ask about the prescribed fire that maintains quail habitat, and get excited when a cooper’s hawk swoops in to steal one of their birds.

They are as knowledgeable about what quail eat as they are what size shotgun shell will bring them down and they believe in giving the birds a sporting chance to get away. Most will not shoot unless their target is well into the air and flapping madly in the opposite direction.

Hunters and Nature

That sportsmanship is, I believe, what we want to instill in our youth. Most states recognize this and offer hunter safety courses to their young people. Tennessee’s program even shows up in their “one-stop shop for Tennessee families to raise healthy and happy kids”, a program called KidCentral TN. For young hunters and their families, according to KidCentral TN, hunting is a great activity that can be shared. Youngsters learn to be patient, and while waiting for animals they get to see nature up close and personal. Kids are the future of wildlife management and if they experience the hunt, they can understand why it is important to protect those natural places and the animals that live there.

That is why programs like Hunt & Learn and youth hunts are important, not just to the future of hunting, but to a general appreciation for firearms as useful tools in our society. In some ways, if you think about it, guns are as natural as… well, nature.

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