North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament Leaves Lasting Impressions

Author: NCWRC blogger/Friday, February 24, 2017/Categories: Blog, Youth Hunter Education

There are many rites of spring that we witness and look forward to each year. Some are of the natural world, such as turkey gobbles, buds cracking or the return of neo-tropical migrants. Others are of our own doing. One such rite will happen for the 40th year this March and April. Every Saturday in March will see what will amount to thousands of middle and high schoolers competing in what has become a showcase of outdoor skill.

The Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament (YHEST) series begins in March with nine district competitions that play the role of proving ground. The best of each district qualify to attend the state competition, which is held on the last Saturday in April. The morning of the state competition, more than 600 participants from every corner of North Carolina will arrive at the John Lentz Hunter Education Complex in Ellerbe to display the skills they have honed from countless hours of practice over the years of their young lives. They have learned to aim small and score big. They’ve made sacrifices, just as their parents and coaches have, to reach this level.

The skills they will display require discipline and control to master, but master they have. They will have proven themselves as the best within their division and district, and they will wait with butterflies in their stomachs. Finally, an arrow cuts the morning air and strikes its mark. A sporting clay explodes into black dust following the report of a shotgun blast. The competition has begun. If their prowess proves enough, they and their teammates will walk away as the North Carolina Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament State Champion.

These highly proficient youth hunter education skills students will compete in four events throughout the day. They will display archery, rifle and shotgun marksmanship, along with an orienteering and written wildlife knowledge test combination event. The teams are made up of individuals from public and private schools, as well as home-schooled students, 4-H and FFA teams that meet the requirements. The teams vie for top honors in these events from a senior or junior level, along with the potential for individual awards.

Those that prove themselves as the best our state has to offer will be awarded with a paid trip to the national level competition. The NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) serves as that pinnacle and is held in Raton, New Mexico this July. The teams that make the trip will compete in a more-involved competition with events in rifle, shotgun, archery and muzzleloader marksmanship. They will also compete in a map and compass course, wildlife identification test, hunter safety trail and a hunter responsibility exam. Historically, the North Carolina competitors have been force to reckon with, bringing home top honors on several occasions.

The North Carolina competition has seen great performances through the years as students perfect their craft. Small tweaks in rules and format have come along the way as the competition itself has slowly evolved into its present state. This year, in an effort to closer align with the national tournament, telescopic sights (not exceeding 9-power) will be allowed on the competitors rifles and stabilizers up to 12 inches will be allowed on bows. The state competition will also be more challenging this year with new distances added to the shooting events and an onsite test. The distance of the archery shots will increase to 15, 20, 25 and 30 yards from 10, 15, 20 and 25 in previous years. The rifle event will see shooters fire at 75 feet as opposed to 50 feet. Finally, the shotgun event will take aim at targets launched from 16 yards in front of the competitors, whereas in previous years, targets had been launched from alongside the shooter. These increased distances only apply to the state competition -  the district qualifier tournaments will remain the same as in the past.   

Of course, an event of this magnitude doesn’t run itself. The WRC staff will be immersed in the coordination, setup and implementation of the events. But, perhaps more importantly the number of volunteers that assist in all aspects of the tournaments is imperative to its success. Most of the volunteers are certified hunter education instructors that have been involved for many years. Their help and experience is greatly appreciated. All nine district competitions, as well as the state competition, will see hundreds of volunteers lending a hand from the smallest of tasks to the most important. The coaches of the teams are also largely hunter education instructors or range safety officers who give their time to see the youth of our state grow as individuals through intense concentration, focus and discipline. The student competitors gain great skill and even greater self-confidence as these volunteers lead by example. 

So jump in your vehicle this spring and take a trip to a range to support our hunting and shooting heritage in a little different way. Come witness great kids doing great things. Come see the torch burn bright, held high and being carried on. You’ll find the best North Carolina has to offer. 

For more information, including district and state tournament dates, visit

By Chet Clark




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