Carl Capestrain and his daughter Jessica, 17, keep watch for whitetail deer during Ohio's youth deer hunt earlier this month.They were hunting near Carrollton, southeast of Canton.
CARROLLTON, Ohio - Seventeen-year-old Jessica Capestrain has a hard time getting up early for school. But when it comes to deer hunting, she was up at
4 a.m. to participate in last weekend's special youth deer hunt.
"You can't beat the feeling of being alone in the woods with all the anticipation of getting a big buck," said Ms. Capestrain, a senior at North Canton Hoover High School. "And there is no feeling like the incredible adrenalin rush you get when you shoot a deer."
Ms. Capestrain was among the growing number of young people who participated in the special hunt for youth under 18 last weekend as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues to add programs and hunting weekends to bolster the number of hunters in Ohio. The regular deer-gun season runs Monday through Dec. 2, with an additional weekend Dec. 15-16.
"The kids are the future for hunting," said Vicki Mountz, executive administrator for information and education for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. "And we realized there was more and more competition for their time every year with all the things like video games, computers that were evolving."
The youth season was created in 2003, and it has proved to be popular, Ms. Mountz said. The preliminary deer kill statewide for the weekend surged 19 percent to 10,515, according to data released Monday.
It's also safer, despite the fact that hunters as young as 7 can be found toting, aiming, and firing 12-gauge shotguns in the woods, according to Jamey Graham, wildlife communications specialist for 19 counties in northeast Ohio.
Pat Tilton, a Stark County hunter and father of a teen hunter, agreed. "It's great to get the kids out there on their own because you don't have a lot of lead flying around," he said. "I think it's a lot safer than the regular season."
Ms. Capestrain became interested in hunting from stories her father, Carl, told.
She started spending time in the woods at age 3 or 4 and at 7 was shooting with a scaled-down bow and arrow. She shot a 7-point buck with a 12-gauge shotgun in her first deer-gun season in 2004.
The peak in Ohio deer hunting came in 1949 when 737,675 licenses were sold, about one license for every 10 Ohio residents.
Sales slumped throughout the next three decades, bottoming out at 216,055 in 1980 and rising last year to about 440,000 for all forms of deer permits - or about one in every 26 residents.
Several factors were cited for the decline, including increased recreational options and television. Other factors included the need to create living space for the baby boom, which caused Ohio's population to grow from 7.9 million in 1950 to 11.5 million in recent years, and farmers' concern for safety and liability.
The state's first effort to turn around the hunting decline was the creation of the half-price youth deer license in 1992, available to anyone under age 16.
Young hunters must complete the eight to nine-hour hunter training course that all first-time hunters must attend and must be accompanied by a nonhunting adult at least 18.
In 2006, the qualified age was raised to 17, accounting for a sharp increase last year.
A third change was made last year: an apprentice license, with a cost of $10 and temporary exemption from the hunter-education course. The apprentice does have to be accompanied by a licensed hunter at least 21.
A youngster may purchase an apprentice license three times. There were 33,817 youth deer-hunting permits sold in Ohio in 1996. A decade later, the number had nearly doubled to 66,626.
"The apprentice program really has helped the numbers grow," Mr. Graham said. "We're finding that kids who won't invest the time to take a hunter safety course before they hunt will get hooked on the hunting experience and then will take the course in order to get the youth license."