As much as state fish and game agencies and various non-profits have tried, no one has come up with the answer on how to interest kids in the outdoors, specifically hunting and fishing.
The presumption of these agencies and groups seems to be that if kids — especially those who have no experience hunting and fishing — are exposed to these pastimes, they'll soon want to do them more and more.
As part of these "exposures,'' usually in the form of special hunting and fishing days, an emphasis often is placed on "getting something'' while in the field, whether it's a duck or goose, or fish.
Important as that can be, and is, in the development of young hunters and anglers, I believe four factors are more important.
1) Spending time in the field with one or both parents or a close adult friend or relative is most important to a child. The argues against the belief, now widely held by sponsors of youth hunting and fishing days, that exposure to these activities with a volunteer the child doesn't know on a single-outing basis is going to do much to interest a kid in the outdoors. I would argue it has little or no effect over the long term in developing a young hunter or angler.
2) Making outings adventuresome with an emphasis on "unpredictable outcomes'' is more important than focusing on harvest. Kids get excited when parents are excited, and when outings in the outdoors are framed in terms of, "Let's plan an event, let's spend time together anticipating and preparing for the event, then let's do it and see what happens.'' Kids get less excited, or not excited at all, when they are "dropped off'' at a youth event to be paired with an unknown "mentor'' for a day.
3) Multiple "non-field'' learning exercises with kids are as important to developing young hunters and anglers today as are actual hunting and fishing trips. Kids today watch TV, that's a given, and adults who want their kids to grow up to be hunters and anglers should watch outdoor programs with their kids, and share that experience with them. A lot of these shows are junk, but not all. Many have helpful tips. More importantly, each offers reference points against which comparisons can be made to the kids' actual trips afield. More importantly still, sharing that time together with kids provides once again a common bond between adults and kids about what can be accomplished in the field, what kinds of gear to purchase, and so forth.
4) Finally, adults are mistaken, I believe, when they place too much emphasis on bringing home fish and game. Kids want to see something for their efforts, sure. But they don't need six ducks to make them happy. That's Old School, I'm convinced. They need time outdoors with important adults in their lives, they want to help plan and participate in adventures of unknown outcomes, and they want to learn and think about hunting and fishing by watching TV, attending sportshows, going to Ducks Unlimited or similar banquets — and doing this with adults who are important to their lives.
Which brings us to this point: Perhaps "youth hunting and fishing days'' have it backward. Perhaps state agencies and non-profits should be reaching out to adults and exposing them to these and other key methods intended to nurture their relationships with their kids that are outdoors-based and multi-faceted.