As parents, we know the feeling of joy when we see our youngster taking steps toward adulthood. Sometimes it is gradual, though often, it is a sudden realization. For me, it was watching my 17-year-old son on his first successful elk hunt, two years ago.
He showed Uncle Jason, and me, that he could keep up with us. He also demonstrated commitment to the hunt by going to the range many times over the summer, making sure he would be ready when the moment called. Calmly, he made an excellent shot. My son packed as much elk meat as his young frame could carry up those steep hills and pushed the loaded cart across the sage and pine ridges well past nightfall.
Watching him do all of this, I realized that he was becoming what I had always hoped—a hunter, a young man, a mature person able to handle himself in the elk mountains. Getting an elk was a big deal for him, but the joy I felt in watching him morph into a hunter was my greatest reward.
How Matthew’s hunt happened was actually not as hard as you might think, since we took advantage of opportunities that exist for teenagers. Some good luck landed him a special tag and a lot of hard work scored him a lunker bull elk. His dad and uncle could not have been more proud, or more excited.
Seems like so many of us get caught up in figuring out how we can go hunting out West and overlook the many programs Western states have established to allow your teenager the hunt of a lifetime. These special opportunities allow you the chance to take them on a hunt that probably seems very exotic to the teenage mind, and will not bust your budget. Not only are these programs more affordable, they usually represent better drawing odds. Here are some examples:
Youths are charged an annual license that is a fraction of what adults are charged. There are no special draws for non-resident youth, but the lower fee sure helps with the cost and allows them to build bonus points in a state that is hard for non-residents to draw.
Young hunters again have a much lower fee for both resident and non-residents. Youth hunters are allocated a small portion of the tags, allowing them to compete amongst themselves for the tags, rather than with us old guys and our mountains of preference points.
There is probably no state more accommodating to non-resident youth hunters. Non-resident kids get to hunt for the same price as resident youth, so long as a licensed adult accompanies them. Cool! They can probably hunt elk and deer in Idaho for less than they pay in your home state.
A pool of 300 licenses are set-aside for non-resident youth to purchase on a first-come first-served basis. The fee is $300 for a deer and elk combination license for a youngster who is accompanied by an adult with the same combination license. Youth can shoot either-sex elk in most units and some of the best limited entry elk draws are for youth only.
Non-resident youth hunters get a license for a much lower fee than adults. Again, the tag fees are the same as adults, but the lower license cost helps, whether hunting now, or building bonus points for the future. Resident kids have really special deer hunts that cover all weapon types and are easy to draw.
Some of the best elk hunts in New Mexico are set-aside for youth and include rifle and muzzleloader. They are lower priced and allow the kids to hunt a week before the adults. These are unbelievable trophy hunts that many adults dream of.
Youth in Utah have a special rifle elk hunting opportunity on the general elk units, during the middle of the rut. These tags are available in the draw and are good for any bull to be taken. Many great elk are coming from Utah, and smart hunters know where to find them in the general units that are adjacent to limited entry units.
Non-resident youth in Wyoming get large discounts for elk, deer, and antelope tags. The cost is a fraction of the adult fee, though no special drawing opportunities are available. Wyoming has treated us to some special father-son hunts.
So, given the lower cost and better draw odds, the chance to take your teenager on a Western big-game hunt is within reach of most hunters. If you truly want to get them hooked on hunting, nothing could further that mission more than taking advantage of these western youth opportunities.