We got lucky with the weather. It was a July day that should have been blistering hot, but it was wonderfully overcast, harbinger of a much-needed storm that would hit late in the day. The venue was crawling with families in the hundreds and kids in the thousands, having a great day in the outdoors and just maybe learning a few things along the way. Events the kids could participate in included archery, rifle, handgun, shotgun, muzzleloader, airgun and airsoft, slingshots and rubber band shooting, rock climbing, kayaking, nature walks and fishing. Seminars included choosing bird dogs, steps to obtaining a hunting license, making quail calls and more; demonstrations included retrieving, trick shooting and cowboy action shooting on horseback. And let’s not forget the raffle items for kids!
Hosted by our Los Angeles and Orange County SCI Chapters together with Mike Raahauge Shooting Enterprises and Turners Outdoorsman, Youth Safari Day 2015 drew more than 3,000 kids and their families. The event is not new. These two SCI Chapters have put on Youth Safari Day for many years…but to my undying shame, I’ve missed both the event and its significance. My only excuse is that more than 20 years have passed since I moved away from Southern California, and although I’ve heard about Youth Safari Day for years, I hadn’t attended. I am much poorer for the lack: What an experience seeing so many kids (and their parents and mentors) having fun…many being exposed to shooting sports and the outdoors for the first time.
The event sharply contradicts two complaints I hear all over the country. The first is that, while we all give lip service to the necessity to expose youngsters, especially our increasing population of urban-bound kids, to the outdoors and shooting sports, few of us do much about it. At Youth Safari Day, both SCI Chapters and some 450 volunteers do something about it. Of course, the hosting organizations can’t do it alone. Youth Safari Day “YSD” is sponsored by an impressive list of local businesses and organizations: Airsoft Guns, Anderson Seafoods, Animal Pest Management, Arrowhead Water, Barnes Plastics, Big 5 Sporting Goods, California Deer Association, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Cobra Kayaks, Daisy Red Rider BB Guns, First Aid: Special Ops, Legacy Sports (Howa), Raahauge’s Pheasant Club, Riverside Members Council, Riverside County Parks, Starlight Kennels-Paul Cacciatori, and Wild Game Feed. All these entities and more, plus all the volunteers are doing something about showing kids what we’re all about.
The second complaint, really more of a myth, is that “California is no longer a hunting state.” It is true that California’s sportsmen and women are politically dominated by liberal politics in the big cities. This is no longer unusual; it’s happening in other Western states, including Arizona, Colorado and even Montana. California is just a bit more advanced in this demographic shift…but there are still plenty of active and dedicated hunters in the Golden State, including in the big cities. Safari Club International was founded in Los Angeles, and today the Los Angeles and Orange County SCI Chapters are just two of fully a dozen California chapters, representing SCI’s greatest chapter density. Without question California’s hunting license sales have fallen, probably reflecting reduced opportunity for city dwellers even more than shifting politics. However, there are still millions of acres of public land available to hunting, offering a surprising mix of big game, small game, waterfowl and upland hunting opportunities. Founded 17 years ago by one of SCI’s great leaders, Dennis Anderson, and his SCI friends in Southern California, YSD helps get the word out: The great outdoors really is great, and the opportunity is still there.
YSD is essentially a hands-on sports fair intended primarily for youngsters. Clearly and properly it wasn’t all about hunting and shooting, but aside from seeing smiles on so many young faces, what impressed Donna and me the most was the calm and patient basic instruction, given to kids who may be handling a firearm for the very first time. The goal cannot be to turn them all into shooters and hunters, because that isn’t going to happen…but it can be, and is, to give them a positive experience they’ll keep in mind when they become voting adults. Many other chapters also have important youth programs, but this is a good one, held in a critical area.–Craig Boddington