My son visited me recently from his home in Missouri, and we spent a lot of time thinking back on the many hunting adventures we have had together. He's always been my best hunting buddy. We think alike, needing only the merest hand signals to communicate what we want to do. It's a communication bond that comes in mighty handy in the woods.
If Mark and I would decide to parallel still-hunt through the deer woods, we'd space ourselves 100 yards apart, decided on the ending point where we would get back together again, and then we would arrive at that point within 5 minutes of one another. We still-hunt at the same pace.
Few young lads have their mother as a mentor for hunting, but my son did. No doubt that is why we think alike - he learned it all from me. Long before the present mentored hunter program was implemented by the Game Commission, my husband and I had a variation of that program in our family.
When he was 5 years old, we would take him on scouting trips. When it was dog-training season, we would take him along. The strict rule was that he stayed behind us. He learned by doing. We did not take him into the woods when deer season was in, but by the time he was able to obtain his first hunting license, he already knew a lot of the techniques and safety measures his father and I used while hunting.
These days there is a youth mentoring program, which is a good idea, in my opinion. Not everyone agrees with me about that, but I saw in my own home the value of teaching hunters while they were young.
When the program was first introduced by the Game Commission, the first uproar was that children as young as 5, 6 or 7 should not be in the woods with firearms. But the restrictions and rules for mentored hunting are such that firearms safety is the prime concern. Frankly, if children were taught how to handle any firearms that would be in his or her home, there would be a great reduction in those accidents in which curious kids sneak around to "look at" their parent's firearms.
The youth mentoring program is aimed at introducing children under 12 years of age to hunting and firearms handling under strict supervision. A mentor is legally an adult 21 years of age at least who will serve as a guide, teacher and watchdog to the youngster.
This is not a group activity. Mentoring is done one-on-one. There can be only one firearm while on a hunting foray, and the mentor will carry it until they reach a stationary hunting location such as a tree stand, deer watch, turkey blind or whatever. When they reach their post, the mentor may turn over possession of the sporting arm to the youth and must keep the youth within arm's length at all times.
All youth participating in the program must obtain a permit through the Game Commission's Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS), which costs $2.70. Of that fee, one dollar goes to the Game Commission, one dollar goes to the issuing agent who processes the permit application, and 70 cents goes to the company managing PALS. It really is not difficult to obtain this permit.
A generation or two ago, most youngsters lived in a rural setting and learned hunting, fishing and shooting as a natural part of life. There's been a shift socially since then, and now we have so many fatherless homes.
Those of us who work in the outdoor field in any capacity meet up with many young people at youth field days and similar events who really need someone to take an interest. The younger kids are when they develop an interest in outdoor things, the more likely they are to stick with them.