NORTHERN HILLS — In cooperation with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Black Hills, South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures pairs outdoorsmen and women with young people throughout the Black Hills, to teach firearm safety and appreciation for the great outdoors.

“Kids that don’t have the opportunity to get outdoors otherwise, (the program gives) them an opportunity to hit the field,” said Bill Eastman, activities coordinator with South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures and a conservation officer with the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks. 

Eastman said that the program kicks off every summer with a fun shoot, where mentors and their mentees practice with the firearms they will use throughout the season.

“It’s good practice and preparation for the fall,” he said.

The program, which started more than 10 years ago, began with a group of hunters and landowners who wanted to pass along their knowledge and love of the land to future generations. Any child between the ages of 12 to 18 are eligible for the program, and all mentors are vetted through the same background check process used by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Black Hills.

“They try and match that child with the adult by their personality and likes and dislikes, just to make sure they’re a good fit,” Eastman said. “It’s very gratifying to be involved in this program.”

While many mentor programs exist throughout the country, Eastman said the Youth Hunting Adventures is unique due to prevalence of outdoors activities the Black Hills has to offer.

“It’s a very unique situation specifically to our area,” he said. “There’s other states and chapters that would like to get started throughout the country and follow the footsteps of what South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures has done.”

In addition to the kick off shooting day, the program features bass fishing, antler shed hunts, and pheasant hunts as well as individual activity opportunities with mentors and their mentees.

Eastman said along with the safety and handling skills the children learn how to be good stewards of the land and the all-important lesson of “the one that got away.”

“We don’t base it on success (of the hunt), we base it on the fun that they have and the knowledge that they learn and safety that they gain,” he said.

For more information about the program, visit www.sdyouthhunt.com, or email Rachel Dather, match support specialist for South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures at RachelD@bigmentors.com.

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