I grew up in a rural setting. Your friends were the children of your parent’s friends they had grown up with. Graduating class size was normally around 50 people. You become close and try to keep in touch, although it gets harder as the distance and time increases throughout your life. Fortunately, Facebook has come along and helped change some of that. It was through this medium that I once again started chatting with my old friend and classmate Parish Witt. He is married to Leann, whom I have known my whole life and who graduated with me and Parish. Also, Leann's mom and my mom were best friends growing up (same town and same high school we all graduated from). Parish and Leann have a son, Austin, who is going to the same high school that we all attended. It had been awhile since I had last talked to Parish (or Leann for that matter). He had several things going on and I was impressed by what I would learn from him over the next few months about youth hunting programs in Missouri. I have to admit, the only thing I remember from my youth hunting in Missouri was the Safety course I took in order to be able to hunt. Things have definitely changed for the better since then. In the spring of 2010, I was planning on heading up for a visit with my mom and I had let Parish know I would be in town. He had mentioned that he and Austin were going on a 3D bow shoot at a local archery range. He also mentioned there would be a few kids there along with their parents, getting ready for another 3D shoot coming up later in the month. He asked if I would like to come along and I said sure, so plans were made and I met him bright and early on a Saturday morning. Austin was in the back seat and it was the first time I had seen him in several years. A nice polite boy, he was somewhat quiet and shy at first, just sitting in the back and listening intently as Parish and I chatted on our way to the range. Parish filled me in on several things in regards to the shoot we were headed to, starting with the group they were involved with, Y.H.E.C. (Youth Hunter Education Challenge). http://www.nrahq.org/hunting/yhec/. Their charter is based out of Fair Grove and the club was started by now Missouri state coordinator for the program, David Brooks. Parish had met David through the 4H shooting sports program. Typically the club meets once a month, unless they are getting ready for the state or national tournament, then they will increase meetings to almost once a week to ensure the kids get a chance to practice their skills. From the Fair Grove Y.H.E.C. page is a brief overview of what Y.H.E.C. is: “Sponsored by the National Rifle Association, this nationwide program isn't like most hunter education classes. Y.H.E.C., which holds events in the United States and Canada, defines itself as an advanced program in outdoor skills and hunter safety training for individuals age 18 and under. Y.H.E.C. events are open only to individuals who have completed hunter safety training at the state or provincial level.” The program was started in 1985 and covers rifles, bows and muzzleloaders. Specific skills include things such as shooting, trail safety and animal identification. Participants are judged on both skill and knowledge of the topics. We made it to the course and Parish introduced me to all involved that day. I had not had a chance to shoot my bow in awhile, so I had decided not to bring it. So I was fortunate enough to get to observe and take a few photos of the experience. Everyone enjoyed the round of 3D and encouragement was given openly for all the participants. At the end of the day, a fine time was had by all and we started to head home. Before leaving out, we trekked through the archery shop located on the facilities and had a nice chat with some of the other folks out shooting that day. As we were driving back, Parish filled me in more on his participation in Y.H.E.C. and the potential for this year’s group to do well at nationals. A few months later, Parish contacted me saying they were headed to the Y.H.E.C. nationals being held in Pennsylvania. Austin and his team competed in all the different skill and knowledge based events and we were kept up to speed with scores and other pertinent information as they progressed through them via Parish on his Facebook page. They all performed well and learned several things that will help them in next year’s competition. But I think that LeAnn said it best when she posted on Parish’s page: “Just remember when you do not get what you want, you do get experience!” I had a chance later in the year to sit down and follow-up with Austin about nationals. He had done well and had learned a lot. He already had some areas that he felt he could improve upon, which was refreshing to hear from someone his age. His also noted that his favorite part of the competition is the muzzleloader. During our conversation, I asked Austin what the program meant to him. He responded: “It provides a lot of opportunity for me and my peers to experience and learn more about the outdoors than what we would have if the program wasn’t available to us”. Parish enjoys working with Austin and the other kids. He encourages them and makes sure they don’t let a bad day of shooting get them down. This was quite evident during the 3D shoot I was at in early spring. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him take more of a leadership role in the local and state programs. It is folks like Parish that ensures our heritage of hunting will continue on through generations to come and that those people will be safe and ethical hunters. But I think Leann is the happiest of all. She was the one that encouraged Austin to find something extracurricular to do with his spare time, and Y.H.E.C. was that activity. She is proud of what he has accomplished in the short time that he has been involved with Y.H.E.C. and encourages him to be better. So no matter where you live, a small rural town in Missouri like where we grew up or a large city, check out the Y.H.E.C. programs in your area. They are a great way to introduce kid’s to that great pastime of hunting and the outdoors. No matter where your located, there is a chance for everyone to participate. It’s a great family activity that all can share in and it will be a fantastic way to introduce more kids to the great outdoors! For more info on Y.H.E.C. please visit http://www.nrahq.org/hunting/yhec/.