This Saturday's opening day of the three-week regular deer hunting season in the Southern Zone has an added hint of change to it ... for it's the first time ever in New York State that youth hunters aged 14 to 16 years old will be able to legally hunt deer (and black bear, beginning Nov. 22). How many actually participate remains to be seen, but if hunter safety courses' attendance around the zone are any indicator, the number may be fairly substantial, especially in the more rural areas such as ours.
As have been well documented and circulated - especially by the anti-hunting and anti-gun organizations – the number of youths taking up hunting has been in decline for the past decade or so. Several factors have been credited for the decline, much to the delight of anti groups, but the sad truth of the matter is that, as a whole, hunters and anglers have historically been the main stewards of our natural environment and the creatures that depend on it. It is also their money – via licenses, fees and special taxes – that fund most of the various state and federal management programs so critical to the welfare of the natural environment.
However, all that said, from a layman's viewpoint the real, usable benefits of youths hunting and fishing is more about education and healthy lifestyles. It's sad when you read the facts about the general health and physical state of far too many kids today. Time was, it was rare to see youths in their teens or young adults in their twenties with diabetes. Now it's become alarmingly all to commonplace. Why? Little or no exercise and poor diet habits. The results are predictable – they become over weight and in poor physical condition. Due to too many indoor lifestyles and interests, far too many don't have a clue about the goings on in the outdoors beyond their house, fast food hangouts or shopping malls. What little they do know often comes from watching TV or visiting YouTube on the Net. Precious few have probably ever seen a fox or coyote hunting mice and voles in a field, or a buck pawing at a breeding scrape or rubbing its antlers on a tree or sapling. Or had a tiny chickadee land so close they could've almost reached out and touched it.