Hunting & Heritage  |  06/14/2023

Nebraska Next Steps Hunt Program Recruits the Young and Young at Heart

Father-daughter hunting duo Tony and Michelle Watson, successful hunters and participants in Nebraska’s Next Steps program.

PF on the Landscape in Nebraska

By Holly MausleinPhoto by Gary Bunjer/Michelle Watson

The Youth Mentor Hunt program began 26 years ago and has graduated over 16,800 youth. The national average of hunter ducation graduates purchasing a hunting permit as adults is 61 percent; Nebraska’s 70 percent rating can be attributed to its fine mentored hunt experiences. 

While this is an impressive increase, Nebraska wanted to see that engagement higher. Lack of additional guidance after a first hunt, and an adult to take them hunting, were both identified as barriers for youth continuing the upland hunting path. That led to the launch of Nebraska’s Next Steps program in 2019.  

Jeff Rawlinson, Assistant Division Administrator of Communications with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) remarks, “Nebraska Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have been leaders in youth hunter development for decades. The Next Steps program is providing advanced support for new hunting families to help them on their outdoor journey.”

In the program, NGPC, PF & QF local chapters and Controlled Shooting Areas (CSAs) partner to provide a safe, mentored environment to support knowledge development and build confidence. A chapter mentor, recent Youth Mentor Hunt graduate, and a parent or guardian, are paired together as a hunting group. The group watches a safety orientation video, participates in a blue-rock clay shoot, and then heads to the field three separate times as a group. 

Gary Bunjer, chapter supporter with the Douglas County West Chapter of PF, signed up to be a mentor and was paired with father-daughter duo Tony and Michelle Watson. Michelle had not harvested a bird during the Youth Mentor Hunt and wasn’t sure about hunting. Her father Tony hadn’t hunted in years. Bunjer and Adam Miller, CSA dog guide from Oak Creek Shooting Sports, worked to build Michelle’s shooting skills. Before long, she was knocking birds from the sky. 

“The beauty of Next Steps is being able to zero in on the very youth that need that extra support, along with the adult, to continue on their path to becoming bird hunters,” says Aaron Hershberger, NGPC Mentored Hunts Coordinator.

Holly Mauslein is Nebraska outreach & communications coordinator at Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.

This story originally appeared in the 2023 Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!