If hunting is to remain a viable sport in America, it is imperative that America's youth have the opportunity to go afield in pursuit of not only small game but big game as well.
The Arizona Game & Fish Department has risen to the challenge by offering a number of juniors-only big-game hunts statewide.
Young sportsmen and women between the ages of 10-17 are allowed to go out on these special hunts. Those between 10 and 13 years old must take and pass hunter education before they can go into the field.
Locally, there are a number of big-game opportunities for young sportsmen and women.
The most popular are the deer hunts in the Hualapai Mountains, Game Management Unit 16A.
There were two deer hunts offered to juniors in the Hualapais this year. The first was a general rifle hunt and started in early October. The second is a muzzle-loader hunt that starts in December.
Tags were limited to 20 for the first hunt this year, and youngsters from as far away as California participated.
Success came to a number of the young hunters who were mentored by family, friends and even a professional guide.
Theresa "Ty" Rogers was one of the seven lucky local kids who drew a tag for the first hunt. She enjoyed success by bagging her first buck, a 3-by-3, while out in the field with her stepfather, Brian Gunnoe.
Also taking a buck at almost the same time and in the same area was 14-year-old Rudy Wallstrom, who lives in Topock.
Wallstrom was on his second deer hunt and was assisted by friends of his family.
With the assistance of friends Dave Magers and Tony Campbell, Wallstrom was able to bag the second deer of his young hunting career, a 4-by-3 buck taken at a range of 120 yards.
But the juniors-only deer hunts aren't just for Arizona residents.
Young hunters from all over the western U.S. apply for these tags.
This year, 15-year-old Matt Recce, who lives in Victorville, Calif., received the last tag issued for the general juniors-only hunt. A friend of his, Brianna Bowering, received the other non-resident tag.
Not knowing the area well, Matt's father decided to use the services of a local guide, and Lake Havasu City resident Mike Cobb was chosen to assist the young hunter on his quest for his first mule deer.
On just the second day in the field, while hunting near Wikieup, young Reece - with Cobb and his father at his side - was able to bag his first mule deer, a three-point buck whose antlers were still in velvet.
All of the kids were excited about the opportunity to go deer hunting without the pressure of having to compete with a lot of other people in the field. Game & Fish has even sweetened the deal by allowing juniors to apply for fall javelina tags in units where the juniors hunts are offered.
If the young hunters were successful in the draw for javelina, as Rogers was, they could hunt for both species of big-game animals.
Even though Rogers got her buck early in the hunt and could have hunted for pigs, she declined to pursue them.
"This deer was enough for me," she said with a great-big grin. "I'll hunt pigs some other time."
The next juniors-only deer hunt in Unit 16A starts in December. Thirty tags were issued for that hunt, and local kids picked up six of them.
Showing just how popular these tags are, two youngsters from Utah also were drawn as was a young hunter from La Crescenta, Calif.
The department has set up juniors hunts for deer, javelina, turkey and even antlerless elk.
The Game and Fish juniors-only programs are good for kids. With the future of hunting in their hands, these kids are developing the skills needed to keep the sport alive. Mentors teach them about the ethics involved in hunting and the importance of being a law-abiding sportsman.
Hopefully, these kids will be able to pass on to the next generation a sport that has been part of the American heritage for hundreds of years.