Recently, an article from National Public Radio was published, discussing the decreasing amount of hunters and the threat of how our country will pay for conservation efforts. Outdoorsman make up the majority of supporters when it comes to conservation efforts. In the article, it reads that between hunters and fisherman, we generate $3.3 billion for conservation, which equates to 59% of the country's total conservation dollars. In 1991, 7.3 percent of the nation's population hunted, and has since taken a dive to around 4 percent. The head of the wildlife division for the Wisconsin DNR says, "With decreases in license sales, we're getting to the point , as a state agency, that we're struggling to match those funds." The article states that the Wisconsin DNR has had to cut 16 positions, ones that would have managed habitats and the wildlife residing in them, because they haven't had the budget to support those positions. The insufficient funds can, and are, leading to fewer fish and wildlife surveys, less habitat management (which can lead to less control of invasive species and is harmful to our current wildlife), and fewer warden patrols.  

It's apparent that kids aren't getting outdoors like they used to. As a kid, I lived for the days my family would go camping. I would spend hours on the lakeshore catching frogs and tadpoles, fishing, and swimming. We weren't glued to a television all day, and we didn't have tablets or cellphones. It's no wonder the number of hunters are declining. So, what is happening? Can families not afford the hunting and fishing lifestyle? Is there a lack of knowledge or teachers? Are we failing our younger generations? There are plenty of reasons or excuses for it, but it comes down to how we move forward and we can start by teaching our kids about the outdoors. This is where, organizations like Raise 'Em Outdoors, are important. 

Raise ‘Em Outdoors is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children and families of all backgrounds get outdoors. They help kids learn, and teach, them skills related to fishing and hunting.  This organization teaches kids how those activities can put food on the table, from field to plate, and why our part in conservation is important.  Raise 'Em Outdoors strives to recruit the next generation of outdoorsman and teaches them to respect wildlife and how to be ethical sportsman. They strive to break any barriers today's families may have, from lack of money and gear, to simply not being raised on the lifestyle, but wanting an avenue to learn. They ensure families and children can easily access the tools they need to make the outdoors more enjoyable, by collecting and donating new and gently used outdoor gear to give kids and families facing financial hardships, as well as host free (or low cost) two-day, two-night outdoor camps across the country.  Erin Crooks, founder of Raise 'Em Outdoors, says she hopes to eventually launch a membership program, to provide kids the knowledge to continue to learn, stay involved in the outdoors year round, and give them the chance to learn about the importance of wildlife conservation. She also hopes to eventually have a camp in every region and eventually, one in every state. Crooks would ultimately like to see Raise 'Em Outdoors involved in schools one day as well. 

As stated previously, the Raise 'Em Outdoors camp is a two-day and two-night event. Campers ages range anywhere from 3 years to 17 years old, and they camp over night with their family wherever the camp is held. Campers can bring tents or RVs, however, any other camping fees are covered.  Children and their families spend two days learning skills related to archery, fishing, rifle shooting, wildlife conservation, and any other outdoor-related events planned for the day.  Parents can participate alongside their kids throughout the day, and can be as involved as they would like to be. 

At the fishing station, participants learn how to cast, tie knots, learn about different lures, ethical fishing, and learn about the aquatic life in the river or lake where the camp is fishing.  Children, ages 7 years old and up, can learn how to cast a fly rod and fly fish, while children ages 6 years old and under, will learn how to cast spinning rods, bait casters, and push-button rods. If younger kids would like to try out fly fishing, they are welcome to. Campers are encouraged to bring their own fishing rod to camp or borrow one, and may fish as much as they would like during down time.

The archery station covers any basics of archery shooting, form, and technique, and eventually allows for further distance shooting as well as shooting competitions between campers. Campers learn how to, shoot and score 3D targets, learn where archery can take an individual, and how they can get involved.  The children and their families learn about bowhunting, shot placement, and ethical hunting.

The rifle station uses a range of gun styles, from bb guns and air rifles, to .22 rifles, and shotguns that are used to shoot clay targets.  Based on age and skill level, kids will start out shooting air rifles and bb guns. They learn the basic safety rules of shooting, shooting etiquette, and how to safely operate firearms.  Each day, safety is reiterated.  After learning basic skills, the campers are able to move on to target shooting, scoring targets, larger rifles and longer distances of shooting, however, each camp is different. Some camps can offer long range shooting and clay shooting, while some may not have the range abilities. Younger kids, in the 3-6 age group will stay with the bb guns and air rifles, competing in games against each other. Campers will also learn about the world of shooting sports and hunting with rifles and shotguns. Again, there is a discussion about ethical hunting and the many different types of game and seasons for hunting. At the end of the camp, prizes and awards are given out for each station. 

Raise 'Em Outdoors accepts donations year round. They aim to have a few big giveaways during the holidays and during the spring. Any and all specific gear requests are always attempted to be fulfilled. It is requested that donations are new or gently used. The organization accepts shooting gear, bows, targets, fishing rods and other fishing related accessories, hunting clothing for all types of weather, knives, calls, binoculars, face paint and/or masks, headlamps and flashlights, GPS's, and fishing or hunting books! Monetary (one time or monthly), gift card, and certificate donations are also accepted. Gift cards and certificates are used to fulfill the needs for specific types of gear at the time. The organization is working on creating local drop off points around the country to collect gear as well. Anyone that would like to help, is encouraged reach out to volunteer, whether it's to help run a drop off location, hold an "Outfit A Kid" event, or even host a camp. The ultimate goal is to reach a larger population, help the program grow, and ultimately help more families. Personally, I've thought of using Whitetails Unlimited or RMEF banquets to collect gear! If people bring an item or money to donate to Raise 'Em Outdoors, they can receive tickets to be entered into a raffle! I'm also hoping to host a camp in Wisconsin in Summer 2019.

There are many ways you can be involved, and any and all donations are important and help! Another way to become involved, is through partnership. Raise 'Em Outdoors is always looking for partnerships whether they're media or corporate (small or large business) partnerships. Companies can donate their time, products, resources or money to Raise 'Em Outdoors. If you would like to donate, request gear, or host a camp, you can email Erin Crooks at erin@rasieemoutdoors.com or visit the Raise 'Em Outdoors website at raiseemoutdoors.com. Let's get our kids outside and show them what the outdoors can provide. 

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Upcoming 2018 Events and Camp Locations: 

"Raise Em Outdoors Pint Night" - Lendy's, Virginia Beach, VA(Fundraiser Event)- May 6th, 2018, 1:00-4:00 PM

Woods N Water: Wrightsville, Georgia-June 1-3, 2018

Warren Wildlife Gallery: Austin, Texas-June 16, 2018

Deep Canyon Ranch: Terrebone, Oregon-July 13-15, 2018

Virginia Beach, VA-September TBD 2018

Halifax, VA-September TBD 2018