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Published: Sunday, 11/28/2004

Ohio's young hunters improve

Ohio's young deer hunters are getting better and better.

A year ago in the inaugural statewide youth deer-gun season, held a week before the general deer-gun season, some 15,000 young hunters bagged 5,208 deer. It was deemed a very successful hunt.

This year, some 15,000 young guns outdid themselves, bagging 6,673 deer, 28 percent more than in 2003.

"The kids participating are experiencing conservation first-hand," said Steve Gray, chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. He noted that the state now offers four special youth seasons: deer, waterfowl, wild turkey, and upland game.

"They are the center of attention on the hunt and they receive one-on-one mentoring from their [nonhunting] parents or adult guides."

The young hunters and their mentors deserve a tip of the hat in honor of their participation in a noble outdoor tradition. So this column on the eve of the statewide deer-gun season, when 400,000 of us will be afield, tells a handful of the young hunters' stories in brief, four of them about first deer:

  • Hunter Johnson is an 8-year-old from Monclova who has been sitting in the bowhunting treestand of his dad, Craig, since he was 3 1/2.

    His grandfather, Ed Romp, has taken him fishing weekly since that early age as well. "This kid is so into hunting and fishing. I take him down to the river once or twice a week," said Romp, who notes the boy was born during hunting season in 1995, hence the name.

    His dad enrolled Hunter, a third-grader at Monclova Elementary School, in a hunter-education course, taking it alongside him, even though it was not necessary for dad. They both passed, and Hunter no longer needed to just watch.

    Craig set him up with .410 Mossberg pump shotgun in a stand on a private farm in Williams County for opening morning of the statewide youth hunt. About 8:30 a.m., he bagged his first deer, a spike buck weighing about 140 pounds, downed on one shot at 25 yards.

    "I never felt like such a proud grandpa," said Romp. His daughter, Robin, must think so, too. She signed her e-mail "proud parents."

  • Samantha Ayer, a 12-year-old from Grand Rapids, went through the hunter-education classses a year ago with her dad, Tim. Although she didn't get a deer in the 2003 youth hunt, it was a great experience, noted Tim.

    "In a recent autobiography she wrote for school, she included it as one of the best moments of her life. It brought a tear to my eye when I read it."

    Sam is a sixth-grader at Grand Rapids Elementary School.

    Last Saturday she and Tim gathered with family and friends for a hunting breakfast, then headed for a ground blind near home.

    "Right on cue at sunrise, a deer appeared near our blind. I whispered 'get your gun ready' as a button buck came from the river bottom into the field just 50 yards from us."

    Samantha did not miss with her Remington 870 20-gauge pumpgun. The celebration included a big hug and a high-five, and the indelicate responsibility of field-dressing.

    But that's just part of the story. Earlier in the week, Tim noted, "the gun was kicking harder that Sam was willing to shoot." He purchased a shock absorber but could not find a gunsmith who could handle the installation in time.

    A friend suggested contacting custom stock-builder Tom Smith of Weston.

    "He graciously dropped what he was doing and custom-fit the piece to Sam's gun on the spot. Without Tom's act of kindness there would have been no story to tell."

    Adds Ayer: "I think the youth gun season is the best change to take place to Ohio's hunting laws since we legalized dove hunting. What a feeling it is to share this great sport with our children." Amen to that.

  • Paul Hilton is a 16-year-old from Swanton who hunted with his dad, Larry. "It was his second year, it's his first deer." Some first deer.

    Using a 12-gauge pump, Paul took a large eight-point buck, its antlers stretching 20 1/4 inches inside and weighing 206 pounds. Father and son were hunting a farm west of Lyons in Fulton County and the buck showed up 40 yards from their ground stand about 11 a.m.

    "I've told him he can give it up now because he's not going to see one of these for a while, probably. His deer was so mature it didn't have any teeth. We couldn't tell how old it was."

  • Elizabeth Latta took a three-point "spike" buck in last year's youth hunt on private land in Athens County, hunting with her dad, State Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green). Then 11, she used a single-shot .410 shotgun belonging to her grandfather, retired Congressman Del Latta.

    Same land a year later, Elizabeth, now 12, still is carrying grandpa's gun and still hunting with dad. About 8 a.m., out came a button buck, 20 yards away and the .410 had a brief but meaningful conversation with the deer.

    "We had a ton of water down there," said Bob. "Fortunately the deer were moving.

    ''It took her dad 26 years till he was able to get his first deer and here she is at 11 and 12. She had it written on her calendar in her room, 'youth deer hunt.' "

    As a postscript, Elizabeth wants to tan the deer's hide herself as a 4-H project. And Bob didn't have any photographs to share right away. They apparently went to school with Elizabeth.

  • Will Murray, 16, of Huron, has hunted for several years with his uncle, Roger Murray of Tiffin, and is a successful deer hunter. He loves what he does, which is all that counts. But he had not bagged a deer. Till last Sunday.

    It is not that Will had not tried, or worked hard at his craft. It was a case of, well, just one of those things. With a couple of buck-fever misses thrown in.

    Will hunted the first day of the 2004 weekend season with a certain adopted "uncle" and outdoors editor, while Uncle Roger manned the base camp, his big red pickup. Despite seeing about 20 of Seneca County's finest by dark, there still was no venison on the tailgate.

    Tim Reilly, a member of the Murray hunting clan from Betts-

    ville, filled in for the outdoors editor on Sunday and by 10 a.m. Will was calling that certain outdoors editor with a tale to remember, about bagging his first deer, a button buck. Reilly, who was a biology major in college way back when, walked Will through the field-dressing and anatomy lesson.

    It almost took longer for Will to tell the tale than it did to do the morning's hunt. Which is the way it's supposed to be. Just like Will's manners. When he got ready to hang up after the phone call of his success, he was sure to say, "thanks for helping me so much yesterday."



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