Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation trains the next generation
Even if you’re not a hunter, you see them throughout the fall: The camouflaged bowhunter glassing a ridge, or the orange shapes emerging from the fields and woods, headlamps bobbing as full dark reclaims the land. Photos go up on the bulletin board at the local gas station or gun shop, and tales are told and retold over a late breakfast and later dinners at the roadside cafe. It’s a tradition so commonly held across the state that it’s sometimes easy to forget what keeps it going: passing on the hunting legacy that is so closely tied to Missouri’s outdoor heritage. Enter the Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation, formed in 2006 with the express purpose of introducing youth to hunting.
“We’re noticing it’s harder for people to connect with the outdoors and their roots,” says Stacie Hubler, president of the Garden City-based nonprofit. “This provides the way for the family to experience it together — especially if they didn’t have someone to do that for them, they have it now.”
The group was the brainchild of several hunter education instructors, among them Stacie’s father, the late Allan Hoover, and co-founder Lee Vogel. The instructors noticed many of the students they followed up with after the course had not put their new skills to use, with most either lacking access to hunting land or the continued mentorship from an adult. Sensing the potential loss of the next generation of outdoorsmen and women, they organized monthly hunting clinics from September through April designed to give new hunters the tools they need to succeed and stay safe afield.
Since its inception the nonprofit has held close to 100 clinics and trained more than 550 new hunters. The weekend-long, hands-on workshop incorporates the Missouri Department of Conservation Hunter’s Education course alongside a live-fire session to teach the safe handling of firearms. The second day is devoted to a hunt, the quarry changing based on what is in open season. Doves and squirrels in the late summer give way to deer in the fall, waterfowl in the winter and turkey in the spring.
Clinics are intended for kids ages 11 to 16. Attendance is capped at six students to provide a 1:1 ratio of mentors to hunters. This reinforces not only the safety factor but also the familial bond.
Jaden Standley, a Life Scout from Lee’s Summit, attended September’s course with four of his fellow scouts from Troop 895 in Independence. All had some experience handling firearms, but only one had been hunting.
“We definitely got some new skills under our belts like how to carry firearms and pass them to other people respectfully and treat all firearms with respect,” Jaden says. “I’ve never been hunting before, so I’m definitely excited.”
Kelly, Jaden’s mother, adds, “I didn’t grow up hunting, but I do think it’s something he needs to know. It’s a life skill, more than anything, and I think it’s important.”
Students learn everything from the parts of a firearm to how to safely carry it in the field to Missouri’s game laws. Within 36 hours the newcomers have passed the test and acquired all the tools they need to remain safe, ethical hunters for the rest of their lives.
“It’s designed to teach you some of the things that are being lost; the tradition and the camaraderie of it,” mentor Jerri Lynn Keith tells a group of students. “It’s not about killing animals. It’s about safety and conservation.”
At the heart of the program are around 80 volunteers who comprise board members, hunter education instructors and mentors, landowners and fundraisers. Mentors instruct the course, coach shooters in the live-fire session and teach the kids and parents proper field dressing for their game. Happily, Stacie sees the general decline in hunting experienced elsewhere in the nation is not happening here in Missouri. Families have traveled from the far corners of the state as well as neighboring Kansas and Illinois to take part in the clinics. The real need, she says, is for adult hunters to help mentor eager participants.
“The demand is there if they’ll come that far, but it’s finding those avenues to get more people involved to put these on,” Stacie says. “We have a good model and a good program, we’re just looking for more bodies to help expand it across the state.”
There’s one final component to passing on the hunting tradition. After the morning hunt, the group reconvenes for a camp lunch intended to recreate the campfire experience. Volunteers cook meat of the same type of game so the kids can find out what it tastes like, and the newly minted hunters share tales, true or tall, of the day afield. With the ritual, a new batch of Missouri hunters is born.
“They get to go around and tell lies about their hunt,” Stacie says with a laugh. She adds, “You actually see the kids come into the beginning of the clinic as strangers, and by the end of the meal you can hardly get them apart. They’ve made new friends over this bonding experience of hunting.”
For more information on the Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation, how to attend a clinic or become a mentor, visit www.mhhf.us or follow the organization on Facebook.