The Wild Side: The joy of teaching others to hunt
My brother-in-law didn’t grow up in a hunting family. He was not opposed to hunting; in fact, it interested him, but there was just not a strong hunting culture in his home. My family, by contrast, was strongly invested in hunting. We probably weren’t extremely successful hunters, and we operated with the bare minimum equipment and know-how, but we wouldn’t miss a deer opener, we grouse hunted at least once a year, and shot whatever rabbits or pheasants we could find around the farm.
Back in 2007, I asked my brother-in-law if I could mentor his son Jordan in the youth hunt. Not only did Jon agree, but he asked if I minded if he accompanied us as well. I was thrilled – of course he could come. Now I was mentoring two hunters! I told him he could buy the appropriate goose licenses and waterfowl stamps. That way, he and I could hunt geese while Jordan hunted waterfowl. We set it up, I provided as much gear as I could, drove down by them and the hunt was on.
We had a great hunt. Jordan shot a few ducks and missed a few more. We all shot some geese, even my brother-in-law. It turned out this was the first wild game he had ever harvested. It had a leg band, and when we reported the bird’s harvest, we learned it had been banded in Winisk, Ontario, on the south shore of Hudson Bay earlier that year. My nephew got to learn all about hunting techniques, ethics, decoy placement, shot placement, even game handling and butchering, along with his dad. We repeated the youth hunt trip annually until Jordan was no longer young enough to participate. Jon and Jordan both enjoy waterfowl hunting, Jordan probably more so than Jon. We still usually get out together at least once a year.
Saturday, Sept. 14, and Sunday, Sept. 15, are set aside as the youth waterfowl season here in Wisconsin. The concept of the youth hunt is pretty straightforward – it is meant to give youth and their parents or mentors an opportunity to get out and learn the sport, work on the skills and mechanics of the particular hunt and experience lower hunting pressure compared to regular season openers. When the hunt first began, it was set up for youth ages 12 to 15. With the addition of Wisconsin’s mentored hunting law a few years ago, the ages expanded to youth ages 10 and up. Youth do not need to purchase licenses or species habitat stamps to participate in this hunt; they need only be HIP (Hunter Information Program) certified, which is free and easily obtained from any license vendor. They still need to use non-toxic shot, and the species bag and possession limits all still apply. Most youth that participate in this special season will hunt with a parent or relative, but about one in seven hunters are only able to participate because a volunteer mentor (maybe a family friend, neighbor or even a registered mentor in a learn to hunt event) took them out.
I have heard from a small number of hunters for many years that they do not approve of the youth hunt, because it reduces their own opportunities for success and enjoyment at the regular season opener, which typically follows a week later. Having mentored in this youth hunt for years, I can agree that the birds quickly change their behavior, wetland use patterns, even locations after the first day. However, Wisconsin waterfowl hunters have been harvesting more than 300,000 ducks every year for the last decade, and they harvested more than 350,000 last season. There are plenty of waterfowl, and plenty of hunting opportunities, for everyone. The hunters purchase licenses and stamps that support conservation work and habitat maintenance and development across the state. To learn more about waterfowl hunting or the youth hunt, go to http://dnr.wi.gov, keyword “waterfowl hunting.”
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.