The smell of bacon being fried in a pan over a small cook stove hangs in the air as shots echo against the hills from the Muzzleloader Event Station nearby. The family cooking the bacon waves to passersby from under their canopy tent, one of many that border the muddy roadway. Rain has been a constant, from a drizzle to a downpour, yet the participants and their families have weathered the storm and are here in Mill Cove for the Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC).
Mill Cove hosts the event every other year with the event going to New Mexico the years between. Over 300 participants, 267 of whom are youth hunters, will partake in eight events over the course of the week that will test their abilities in: hunter responsibility and safety, orienteering, wildlife identification, rifle and shotgun shooting, and archery.
Families from all over the country have come to participate in the event with at least fourteen different states being represented by participants this year. Constant rain has threatened to force event staff to dam the nearby river, something they haven’t had to do in 14 years. Despite this almost everyone seems excited to be there. How can this be?
After talking with numerous event staff I realize this event is more than just a competition. So much of what makes this event so engaging for the participants and their families deals not with the final results but what these young hunters are learning. Barb, one of the staffers working the muzzleloader event, tells me she has been a part of YHEC for the last 19 years. She is far from the only one to have made YHEC an annual part of her summer.
So many of the participants and staff are returning members, you get the feeling it’s like a family reunion every summer. Besides the familiarity with one another there must be something more that motivates this group to come together every summer, right?
As one individual statteach are transferable to life beyond hunting.” Because many of the competitions rely on focus and attention to detail, young hunters develop a competency in these areas that enables them to succeed in other ventures.
The competition is an exciting way to learn these skills and build strong bonds with family and friends. Event staffers, like Barb along with her good friend Sharon and so many others who return year after year, work hard to provide these young hunters with a unique opportunity to grow in a safe environment. So yeah it rains, the road gets muddy, everyone is soaked, and some of the events may even have to be moved around to accommodate the swelling river but it’s all worth it.