Being Good Stewards of Environment, Practicing Hunting Safety Important to All
By Dave Woods • dwoods @officialkidsmag.com
Joe Huggins has an important message for kids in Arkansas and around the region.
“Getting out in the woods is important and learning the importance of being a good steward of the environment is too,” Joe, the hunter education coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, explained. “The wildlife in this state doesn’t belong to the Game and Fish Commission. It belongs to everyone. They are the public’s and we want to get people out into the woods and onto river banks and the lakes to enjoy the natural resources we have.”
For more that 26 years, Joe has lead efforts to make sure kids and adults in The Natural State understand the importance of our natural resources. He also coordinates hunter education programs for the organization.
“We want Arkansans to be safe while they are out there,” he stressed. “Firearms are not toys. Even if we are talking about air guns and BB guns and pellet guns. They may be the first gun a young person gets their hands on. They are not toys and (kids and adults) need to respect them and need to handle them properly. Knowing how to safely handle them, whether it’s a BB gun, 22- or 12-gauge shot gun, you need to respect them.”
Joe, who grew up in a rural household said he was a kid who was always in the woods or walking creek beds and riverbanks when he wasn’t in school. It was a different time.
“When I grew up, there were more lands available to hunt,” he said.
“I had those opportunities. My friends and their parents
hunted and fished. I lived right beside the Arkansas River and I was in and out of the woods and river all of the time. When the weekend rolled around, I wasn’t sitting inside watching TV or playing video games, I was on the river banks and running through the woods.”
But, Joe admitted, times have changed. Today, he lamented, kids don’t have the opportunity to get out into Mother Nature’s backyard often enough.
“My kids they grew up with sports and other activities,” he said. “Now, it’s a challenge to get kids into the outdoors. Baseball and basketball are great to get kids active. When you start getting out into the woods, though, you can get active, stay healthy and see what wildlife we have in this state. You can experience the beautiful country, enjoy the outdoors and see what we have to offer in this state.”
For families interested in the hunting sports, Joe said the Game and Fish Commission works with other organizations to make sure hunter safety and education classes are widely available around Arkansas.
“Hunting safety isn’t just for kids,” said. “Kids can teach safety to parents and adults too. Being able to go to a hunter education class or get involved with the Jakes Program, a youth program set up by Wild Turkey Federation, or Green Wings, a program set up through Ducks Unlimited, is a great way to start.”
Joe said 4-H has a lot of different programs for youth and with shooting events and competitions.
“We have a shooting sports program,” Joe explained. “We probably average 6,000 youth shooters from grades 6-12 who shoot trap. We host regional competitions and state competitions and there are high school age shooting competitions for (college and university) scholarships. We also have an archery program the Game and Fish Commission has set up through schools. We’ve got a lot of schools involved in that. We have regional and state tournaments and about 2,000 shooters participate in the state program. We have an elementary program and categories for middle school and senior high. We’ve got some really talented archery shooters in this state. Arkansas shooting sports competitors have gone on to Junior Olympics and are getting close to competing in Olympic shooting.”