Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and all similar national organizations are strongly committed to habitat creation and preservation with their particular chosen species in mind. However, they all agree that getting each generation of America’s youth off the couch and involved in hunting, conservation and in the outdoors in general, is absolutely key for the sports of hunting, fishing and trapping to continue as we know them.
In 2006 Pheasants Forever (PF) created its National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) with the explicit mission “To serve as spokespersons for conservationists under the age of 18 years old and represent their views and opinions on issues related to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife.” The NYLC is comprised of 20 youth from around the country who are nominated by their respective PF chapters because of their involvement in the community and in conservation. Sixteen year old Jared Austin from McPherson, KS is one of those members.
When I interview youth, I always ask how they came to enjoy and be involved in the outdoors. Time-and-again the answer is that they were taken afield by their father when they were very young, and grew up embracing the outdoors. Jared’s answer to that question was identical. His dad Jason began taking him along on deer scouting trips before he was old enough to shoot a gun, then he just naturally became a hunter (and fisherman during the summer.) He harvested his first turkey when he was 10 years old and his first buck when he was 13. Jared told me “Now hunting and being in the outdoors is not so much a passion as it is an obsession.”
Both Jared and his dad are very involved in activities at the McPherson Valley Uplands, an outdoor conservation/education center west of McPherson, developed and supported mainly by the local McPherson Area Pheasants Forever Chapter. Jared volunteers there doing everything from pouring concrete to helping run dog trials, an annual event held at the Uplands Outdoor Life center. Brett Reber, chapter president told me “We were impressed with Jared’s willingness to volunteer for all our chapter’s projects, whatever they involved, and with his obvious love of nature and conservation. We have a number of youth members in our organization, but Jared’s initiative and work ethic was so impressive that we nominated him for a position on the PF National Youth Council.” Jared was elected and is presently chair of the magazine committee, which collects and organizes all material used in “Forever Outdoors,” the Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever quarterly youth magazine. Jared recently penned a series of articles about Conservation Heroes for the magazine.
The Youth Leadership Council also strives to train its members as leaders of their generation of hunters. He says many on the council are afraid their generation my very well be the tipping point as to whether the sports of hunting, fishing and trapping begin to recover and thrive again or whether they begin to slid into oblivion. Jared told me “One of these days this country will be run by today’s kids, and I don’t think enough of those kids really understand what they have to lose.”
Somewhere during an interview I always ask a kid to tell me a specific story or two that have helped cement their love of the outdoors, and then I want to know what keeps them goin’ back. Most kids, even the most motivated struggle to find a specific story, then give me some sort of stock textbook reason they continue to be involved in the outdoors. Jared told me story-after-story about magnificent, wonderful things he had seen in God’s Creation, then said “I go back because I want to see that stuff again and again.” That leads me to ask my generation “Are we doin’ our part?”…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]