It was 34 degrees and raining — another spring day with decidedly un-spring-like weather — as Maggie Young and Keith Wintersteen oversaw a group of boys blasting clay targets at the Rapid City Trap Club.

I had presumed the shoot would be canceled, given the miserable conditions. But I got a call a couple of hours earlier from Wintersteen, a South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks naturalist with the Outdoor Campus West here in Rapid City. He said the boys from the Rapid City Club for Boys were itching to have some trigger time, inclement weather or not.

“They said, 'Oh no, we want to shoot,’” Wintersteen said. “So we’ll be there. You’ll be there, too, right?”

Uh, yeah, right. Be there. Sure. And I was there, with an extra layer of clothing but without the anti-freeze of youth.

The Club for Boys kids had plenty of that anti-freeze, along with the added insulation of excitement that they were finishing their HuntSafe hunter-education, firearms safety course with the required “field day” at the range.

It was a noisy test. A fun one, too, in spite of the cold, soggy conditions that, even the youngsters had to admit, had some effect.

“It’s pretty chilly. My fingers are starting to freeze up,” 14-year-old Kerth Francelizo said. “At least it’s not snowing.”

For Francelizo, the chilly fun at the trap range was just the beginning of what he hopes will be a long relationship with gun sports. He wants to fire at more than clay targets, too, and eat what he shoots.

“It’s the jerky part. I really like jerky,” he said. “There aren’t any hunters in my family. But they like the jerky part, too. It all tastes pretty good.”

That “aren’t any hunters in my family” part is an important point. Kids from non-hunting families might have an interest in the sport but struggle to find inspiration and guidance. Young offers that as a state-certified HuntSafe instructor who also happens to be outdoor programs director at the Club for Boys.

“She was a naturalist intern here last year and went through our Hunting101 class,” Wintersteen said. “And she has taken off from there.”

I met Young last September when she and others in the Hunting 101 class joined Wintersteen for some dove hunting and pond fishing near Buffalo Gap. She shot her first dove and caught her first crappie, pan friend both and declared them “delicious.”

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Since then, the 24-year-old graduate in outdoor education from Black Hills State University has taken on the job of coordinating the outdoors program at Club for Boys.

“The program used to be focused on fishing,” Young said. “But now we’re expanding it to include hunting.”

Other things, too, of course, including hiking and backpacking and whatever fits into a total outdoor experience that Young believes helps not just in providing healthy recreation, but also in forming responsible young adults.

“Fishing, hiking, hunting, whatever, it’s just getting them outdoors,” she said. “There are a lot of things they’re doing for the first time. And some may have struggled in school or had behavioral problems. And this really helps them to focus.”

Francelizo was focusing on breaking clay targets when I first met him. But he had more than that in mind. He already had already found an adult hunting mentor and they planned a spring turkey hunt, with other hunts for different game this fall.

Every story like that works against a long-term decline in hunter numbers in the United States that began in the early 1980s when almost 17 million people brought hunting licenses of one kind or another. By 2016 it was more like 14.5 million.

With more kids growing up in non-hunting families and more organized sports and distractions from the internet, stemming and reversing the loss in hunter numbers is a challenge. But it starts with people like Wintersteen and Young reaching out to kids.

“Maggie put it out there as a challenge to her kids in the HuntSafe program,” Wintersteen said. “If they finished the course and completed certification, she and I would take them to the trap range and teach them how to shoot.”

And they did, bad weather notwithstanding.

“They were not discouraged in the least by any type of weather,” Wintersteen said. “And when we were finished, they didn’t want to put those shotguns down.”

Half frozen fingers and all.

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