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Is Hunting Good Medicine for Bad Kids?

Hunter Education for Troubled Youth Spreads from Wyoming to Surrounding States

Is hunting a transformative experience for troubled youth? Does it profoundly connect adolescents to nature and life? Does hunting teach compassion?

Dr. Randall Eaton’s research indicates that hunting is instinctive in males, which, he says, has significant implications for education, child psychology, psychiatry, criminal justice and environmental conservation.

According to Eaton, among the most successful programs ever launched for troubled youth was based on wilderness survival. For 13 years groups of teenage boys went into the southern Idaho wilderness with nothing but their clothes, a sleeping bag and a pocket knife. They had to gather or hunt whatever they ate for two weeks.

Eaton’s book, From Boys to Men of Heart: Hunting as Rite of Passage interviews Dr. Wade Brackenbury, field supervisor of the wilderness survival program. Brackenbury states that surveys sent to the boys’ families indicated that 85% of the boys did not get in trouble during the year after their wilderness experience. He is convinced that their most transformative experience was taking the lives of small animals for food.

Eaton proposes that hunting is the original and still seminal rite of passage for adolescent boys to manhood. It presents hunting as a pivotal experience that engenders in both boys and girls respect for life and responsibility as well as character and universal virtues while engendering stewardship of the environment.

Author of Teaching Virtues Across the Curriculum, Four Arrows aka Don T. Jacobs, Ph.D., Ed.D., states that hunting teaches young people universal virtues including patience, generosity, courage, fortitude and humility. He defines humility as, “knowing you are part of something greater than yourself.”

The research for Eaton’s book includes questionnaire surveys of 2,500 older hunters in the US and Canada, which, he believes, have significant implications regarding the value of hunting to lifelong development. The surveys indicate that four out of five hunters pray for the animals they kill or give thanks to the Creator. Nearly all hunters claim they feel happy and sad when they kill an animal. All hunters surveyed feel admiration, respect or reverence for the animals they hunt. Hunters claim that a lifetime outdoors has taught them inner peace and humility.

When he asked hunters, men and woman alike, what life event most opened their hearts and engendered compassion in them, most of the women chose “becoming a parent,” but most of the men chose, “taking the life of an animal.” Other choices were: “death of a loved one,” “death of a beloved pet,” and, “teaching young people.”

Michael Gurian, a best-selling author of several books on how to raise boys, states that hunting teaches compassion.

A few years ago on a national radio show Eaton talked about why hunting is good for kids. A woman phoned in and said, “You’re just teaching kids violence.” Eaton’s response was, “What do you think Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela would say about that? They won the Nobel peace prize, and both are avid hunters.” Other exemplary role models were hunters including Thomas Jefferson, Audubon, Thoreau, Roosevelt, Steinbeck and Leopold.

Inspired by Eaton’s work, a revolutionary program was launched in Gillette,Wyoming two years ago by Dr. Karl Milner, an Olympic Gold Medalist in shooting. Hunter Education for Troubled Youth, known as HEFTY, is spreading like wildfire. It began with the courts sending juvenile delinquents whose attitude and behavior quickly improved. The Wyoming School for Boys, a reform school, adopted HEFTY, and the Fish & Game Commissioners not only endorsed it but also donated big game hunting tags, worth thousands of dollars each, to the kids who complete the year-long program.

The demand from parents of kids not in trouble opened HEFTY up to all kids. Two public school districts in Wyoming adopted it. In less than two years HEFTY has grown from a local program to South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Colorado. What began with one instructor now has 67. Recently, the Municipal Court of Denver assigned 240 kids to the HEFTY program. Visit

Eaton said, “the power of hunting to transform troubled youth speaks strongly for the value of hunting for all kids.”

The hunting community justifies hunting with a conservation message, but people do not hunt to conserve wildlife. While conservation of wildlife is an extremely beneficial by-product of hunting, it is not attracting young people to its dwindling ranks.

Eaton is convinced that until the hunting community extends its message beyond conservation to the benefits of hunting to human development, recreational hunting will continue to decline to the detriment of society and the environment.

He added, “Imagine what the future of hunting would be like if the non-hunting community knew what the hunting experience does to transform youth into better adults? Would it reverse recruitment of youth to the outdoors while securely establishing a positive image for recreational hunting and its vital role in conservation?”

Randall Eaton lectures widely and teaches workshops on youth hunting and recruitment. For more information phone 513-244-2826 or email or

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