If the results of annual youth pheasant hunts by area chapters of Pheasants Forever are any indication, then the special statewide youth small game seasons were a resounding success.
And it was about a whole lot more than just shooting birds, as we shall see.
Hunters age 17 and under, accompanied by nonhunting adults, were allowed afield principally for rabbit and pheasants, during the last two weekends. These special hunts are held in advance of the general upland game seasons, which open today under an Ohio Division of Wildlife initiative to provide prime opportunities for young hunters.
Three area chapters of Pheasants Forever took advantage of this early opportunity to conduct their annual youth programs, which under the PF philosophy includes lessons of the importance of habitat, good conduct, and safety. Following is a brief summary of each hunt:
Seneca County - It was the chapter's fourth annual youth hunt and it fielded 34 hunters, reports Don Hunter, a chapter member and operator of Hunter's Kennel and Pheasantry.
"They were given a safety briefing prior to trying their shotgun skills on clay birds," said Hunter. Headquarters were the Sandusky River Coon Hunters grounds south of Tiffin.
"Over the course of the day 90 pheasants were released and a majority of the youths bagged a bird. The hunt went real well - cool and wet - good for the dogs and handlers," said Hunter.
Twenty adult volunteers helped with supervision, dog-handling, and grub. The help, in addition to PF and the Coon Hunters, came from Tiffin Chapter, Izaak Walton League of America; Seneca County Muzzle Loaders; Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District; Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Henry County - Thirty young hunters went afield in this hunt, which was held at Maumee Valley Sportsmen's Club near Malinta.
"The hunters were divided up in twos or threes and given a guide and dog to help them on their hunt," said Tim Feather, chapter president. "Not all the hunters were successful but everyone had an enjoyable time on a beautiful day.
"The hunters also were able to practice before the hunt by trying their hand at clay-pigeon shooting from the traphouse."
Much like Seneca County, a platoon of hard-working adults volunteered to make the day - from attending to hunting particulars to lunch and donations.
Private landowners were gracious, Feather noted, in giving permission for the hunts on their land.
Wood/Lucas Counties - It was the 11th annual hunt for this combined-county chapter, which years ago created the national model for PF youth hunts, and it was the first time that members of the Leopold Education Project, a national conservation education arm of PF, joined in the lunchtime program.
The LEP works with educators in conservation ethics and education in the mold of the late Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife management whose deep, incisive thoughts on man, the land, ethics, and nature are distilled in the classic, A Sand County Almanac. An LEP workshop was held last weekend at Camp Widewater near Liberty Center, and some participants joined young hunters at lunch at the Wood County Fairgrounds' Junior Fair Building in Bowling Green
"It went smoothly," summed Lou Best, godfather of the Wood/Lucas hunt. "The young hunters bagged about 60 birds with the help of 30 dog handlers." The chapter also sponsors a second hunt for about 30 young guns in December at Maumee Bay State Park. That hunt's roster already is full.
"There is an incredible need to get kids connected with the outdoors," said Cheryl Riley, national youth program coordinator for PF, who worked at both the hunt's lunch and the LEP program. "In my opinion it doesn't matter as much how you do it as that we do it."
Reflecting on the Wood/Lucas hunt, Riley noted: "It's almost a rite of passage in northwest Ohio that kids wait till they are old enough to go on that hunt." The hunt is restricted to ages 12 through 15, and Riley watched younger siblings in the ranks, attending lunch but awaiting their turn - next year.
"I applaud this [hunt] enthusiastically," said Riley. "The LEP is another way we're trying to reach people who work with kids, connecting to the land and discovering the outdoors.
"It all ties together. In some ways you are doing it with the head. In others you are doing it with [field] skills. It all connects. It's all important, and Pheasants Forever is doing it all with volunteers."
A trapshoot announced Sunday for Ottawa Lake Sportsmen's Club has been postponed to make room for a public turkey shoot, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For other details call Dave Price 734-856-1806.
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