ROCHESTER, Minn. – It’s been well documented nationwide that participation in fishing, hunting and recreational shooting is declining. However, in the Rochester area, recruiting, educating and mentoring young people is a priority in order to connect them with their hunting heritage.
“There are many children that are not exposed to the outdoors and we aim to change that,” said Mike Kurre, mentoring program administrator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “With so many distractions and activities in youths’ lives now – the Internet, organized sports, video games – if we don’t start giving our kids experiences at a young age, we lose them. Studies have shown by age 12 they’ve chosen the activities they are going to participate in.”
The Minnesota DNR partners with organizations for camps and workshops throughout the year.
“We have been doing lots of one-time events, but it really takes multiple opportunities. That’s the key to participation,” Kurre said.
The Minnesota DNR promotes wild turkey, deer, pheasant and big game hunts for youths accompanied by adults. These hunts are on private land with excellent mentor partners.
The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association promotes youth education about natural resources through its Forkhorn Youth Summer Camps. The camps focus on Minnesota’s outdoor heritage and instill in children a greater appreciation for natural resources. Camps range from beginner programs with basic firearms safety, hunting tips, wildlife ecology education and outdoor survival skills, to experienced camps for advanced marksmanship, big and small game biology, tree stand safety and hunter ethics and responsibilities. MDHA collaborates with seven facilities around the state to offer camp sessions.
In addition to hosting camps, area environmental learning centers in Lanesboro and Red Wing offer youth programs that cover ecology, outdoor skills, archery, bowhunting, trout fishing, beaver trapping and more.
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge introduces children to its plentiful opportunities for fishing, bird watching and deer and waterfowl hunting. The Refuge is a waterfowl flyway that welcomes 50,000 swans and 306 species of birds every year. From digital photo workshops to cell phone tours, the Refuge focuses on youth instruction.
The Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester also works to expose children to the outdoors with classes about fishing, bird trapping and banding, geo-caching, canoeing and more. The Quarry Hill facility is 320 acres featuring paved and unpaved trails, historical man-made sandstone cave, education center, two-acre fishing pond, fossil beds in a prehistoric limestone quarry and a 20-acre restored oak savanna.
Based in Minnesota, the School of Outdoor Sports is a new initiative aimed at inspiring youth to pursue hunting and fishing as pastimes. The organization provides detailed outdoor skills instruction via Web content, videos and instruction. It also helps provide mentors to allow youths to put their learning to use. Its Web site answers questions and provides youths with a place to share stories and pictures. Founder Mark Strand grew up fishing, hunting and shooting, worked as a salesman in a hunting and fishing store, a manufacturer’s representative in the outdoor industry and has been an outdoor writer, photographer and filmmaker since 1977.
Southeastern Minnesota’s archery heritage is well-known. It’s only natural that the area is active in providing archery instruction and mentorship for young people. The National Archery in Schools Program, which introduces students to archery by providing schools with grants for the best equipment, training and curriculum available, is strong in the area thanks to equipment manufacturer Matthews Archery, which is based in nearby Sparta, Wisc. Matthews Archery has provided almost $2 million in sport over the past six years.
Part of the Matthews Pro Staff team, Ray Howell is a world-renowned bow hunter who created the Kicking Bear Foundation and Kicking Bear One-On-One mentoring program, which encourages today’s sportsmen and women to get involved with youth. The organizations team up with clubs to organize campouts and hunts, working to get kids off the streets and into the outdoors.
But perhaps the most inspiring organization working to link children with the outdoors is the Hunt of a Lifetime organization and its Minnesota chapter in Anoka. The nonprofit grants hunting and fishing dreams to kids with life-threatening illnesses. David and Lois McHugh lead the Minnesota chapter. They became involved with the organization after their son, Wayne, was granted his wish to go on a caribou hunt in Canada and died 10 days after returning. Wayne told his father it was one of the best weeks of his life and wished other kids could have the same experience. Since then, the chapter has fulfilled the wishes of more than 22 children from Minnesota.
–Courtesy Rochester CVB