As I pulled into the area where everyone was gathered, the first thing I noticed was a group of kids running and playing — just being kids. I was late, as usual, but had plenty of time to catch up with what was going on at this special youth deer hunt being held near the town of Union in Monroe County, West Virginia.
Many states now have a special season for antlerless deer hunting, allowing youth hunters their own time in the woods to pursue game before all the other hunters get started. This type of season is a win-win situation in that it gives young people, many of them in the field for the first time, a great chance to experience deer hunting and the outdoors. This season also speaks to the need of hunters taking some of the excess doe population in certain areas if wildlife biologists feel this is necessary.
I have written often about the need of introducing young hunters to the sport. We can talk till all of the bovines come home about how things are just not the same as they used to be on the hunting scene. The fact is that it is not.
Not all young people automatically start hunting at a young age because of friends and family. Potential new hunters — those who would love to try it — need help. They need a place to go hunting, they need someone to take them, they need someone to show them the ropes. They need a mentor.
Youth deer hunts such as this one in Monroe County provide that type of opportunity. As is the case for many youth deer hunts, this one was sponsored by the state's division of natural resources, and the young hunters are guided for the day by DNR officers, wildlife biologists and other volunteers who are experienced hunters to make the day a safe and enjoyable experience.
The 13 young people on this hunt spent the morning on the shooting range sighting in and becoming familiar with the rifle they would use this day under the watchful eyes of Officers Josh Toner and Gabe Wood and biologist Alan Shipley. That was followed by some very informative talk on hunter safety concerns, and then it was off to what many consider the best part of any family event — food! Some delicious chili with all the fixings was provided by Cully McCurdy of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"We want you to have a good hunt and have fun here," Sgt. Chris Lester told the eager crowd of new hunters. "This is something you will remember for the rest of your life.
"We also want you to have a good and productive life, and this is done by making good choices now at this time in your life so you will not have to deal with the consequences of making bad choices. You will hear a lot today about ethics and making ethical choices while hunting. It's the same in life: Making good and ethical choices will result in you having a good life."
I'd say that is a pretty good message for whatever the occasion!
Here is a news flash in case you didn't know: Girls hunt, too! I was struck with the presence of one young female hunter and felt she was the epitome of what the youth hunt was all about. Abigail Burr is 16 years old and from Princeton, West Virginia, and this was her first deer hunt.
"My grandfather, John Tedder, was a big hunter and he actually hunted in this area. I listened to his stories all the time, but he passed away before I got a chance to go hunting with him," Abby explained.
"I just wanted to experience what I had heard my grandfather talk about in all of his stories. The atmosphere here was very welcoming and helpful; I had never shot a gun before, and Officer Gabe Wood helped me with that and I hit all of my targets! Then when we went to the blind and were hunting; he helped me get lined up on the deer and showed me where to shoot. After that he helped me field dress the deer. I helped, but it was kind of gross!"
She had a great first experience, which is exactly what every new hunter needs.
Such an endeavor takes a lot of planning, and this one was greatly aided by the group West Virginia Youth Hunt, led by Larry Burwell, the president of the organization, and James Bradley Jr., the treasurer, both from Monroe County. These two men worked very diligently to provide resources and talk to sponsors, whether individuals or businesses in the area, and they were able to take care of all the supplies and funds needed to make the event a success. These resources are crucial to the event and include food, hunting gear and firearms for the youth that day.
Young people being introduced to hunting in a safe and friendly environment, rubbing shoulders with DNR officers and wildlife biologists, having a great experience with hunting for the first time and hopefully starting them out with what will become a lifelong pursuit.
What's not to like?
And to top it all off, I got at least two bowls of that chili.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.