All experienced hunters have one thing in common: We all had good teachers and mentors who showed us how to start down the hunting trail.
Dads, granddads, uncles and other family members usually took us to the woods and showed us the dozens of things we needed to learn as hunters — everything from how to sight in a rifle to field dressing a deer that they happily passed on to us without a second thought.
Times change, and today the problem is many young people don't come from a hunting family or background. There are a lot of potential young hunters who would love to have someone show them the ropes of the outdoors world, but they just don't have that someone to show them the way.
This picture sometimes seems pretty bleak as there is always a shortage of hunters willing to step up as mentors. Recently, though, I saw a big ray of sunshine on this in the form of a special event hunt.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Section, the DNR police officers, have held many special event hunts for young hunters who would have had no opportunity for the hunting experience had it not been for these hunts and the officers' guidance. This particular antlerless deer hunt was done in partnership with the Mountaineer Challenge Academy located in Montgomery, about a half-hour southeast of Charleston.
The Mountaineer Challenge Academy is designed to give academically challenged teens a second chance at obtaining their basic education. High school diplomas are available for those who qualify. The MCA's mission is to train and mentor selected at-risk youth to become contributing members of society using eight core components in a quasi-military environment during a 22-week residential and one-year postresidential followup program. The structured environment includes many aspects related to military training, such as paying attention to detail, respect, self-discipline and a chain of command.
"The Mountaineer Challenge Academy-South was invited to participate in the WV antlerless deer season with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and local volunteers in Monroe County with four cadets," MCA Commandant of Cadets South Jayme Persinger said. "These cadets were selected from the academy based on these criteria: They have never been deer hunting, wanted to participate, and some have never fired a firearm. The WVDNR made these cadets feel like family by inviting them to a lunch meal, providing them with numerous items they could keep that would assist them in future hunting trips, and provided a positive influence on these West Virginia teens.
"The end goal during this event was to provide an opportunity for these cadets to harvest their first deer; however, I believe the partnership, camarederie, education, experience and positive influence the WVDNR and volunteers had on these cadets far outweigh the harvesting of the deer. This will be an experience these cadets will remember for the rest of their lives."
Four MCA cadets joined DNR officers from District Four in Monroe County for an antlerless deer hunt. Everyone met at the Kalico Kitchen restaurant in Union for lunch and orientation. Cadets were presented with warm blaze orange vests, binoculars, wool hats and other items the deer hunter needs. Upon arriving at the hunting area, the cadets — two young men and two young ladies — were given a thorough introduction to marksmanship and rifle shooting by Officer Josh Toner. Each cadet had the opportunity to fire a rifle at different yardages, and I think they all had confidence in their shooting skills when the time came to head to the woods.
Each cadet was paired with a DNR officer and a volunteer, and each team made its way to deer stands that had been selected by the officers. I had the pleasure of joining Dakota Kelly (a cadet) and Officer Toner, and soon we were settled into our blind and began our quiet wait. Patience is something all hunters must learn, and Dakota surely got a lesson in it as we sat into the late afternoon. I was beginning to wonder if anything would happen for us when we spotted two deer slowly approaching from downhill. These deer certainly tested Dakota's patience, but when the time came, he made one well-placed shot and had his first deer — and some really good venison for the freezer.
We had heard other shots in the distance, and we were hopeful the other cadets had scored; when we returned to our meeting place, we found the four cadets had taken three deer. All of these young people seemed truly happy to be there and were very grateful for the opportunity.
"This is an outstanding opportunity for the Natural Resources Police to partner with the Challenge Academy staff in providing an opportunity for these young cadets to learn and experience deer hunting, safely and ethically," said Col. Bobby Cales, chief of WVDNR Law Enforcement. "Both entities have a military structure, which in turn allows our mentorship with the cadets to be more effective. We enjoy watching these young hunters take what they've learned in our hunter education program and utilize that knowledge in a field setting."
The ray of sunshine I spoke of came over Peter's Mountain that evening.
Dakota and fellow cadets Joy Fitch, Mileena McCallister and Logan Sprouse didn't have family members to show them the trail to being a hunter, but they had some very dedicated DNR officers for this job.
I think they are going to be just fine.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.