Dec. 6, 2017
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
Seventeen young hunters had the opportunity to experience hunting camps like no other, thanks to special mentored hunts held last weekend by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at two conservation education centers owned by the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation.
The hunts, one at Potlatch Conservation Education Center at Cook’s Lake in Casscoe and the other at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center on Crooked Creek in Yellville, were part of the AGFC’s continued efforts to introduce young hunters to the outdoors through special mentored outdoors experiences.
Traditionally, people are introduced to hunting by friends or family members. Many young people with an interest in hunting may be left behind because they do not have such a mentor in their life. Simply shooting a firearm is a skill people from hunting families take for granted. Another barrier for beginning hunters is access to a location where they can experience at least some partial success from which to learn and build confidence.
The Potlatch Conservation Education Center welcomed 10 youth hunters and their mentors Dec. 2 to an orientation and safety briefing before setting them up in blinds for a shot at a deer.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service out of (Dale Bumpers) White River National Wildlife Refuge works with us to promote the hunt and collect applications,” said Wil Hafner, AGFC education program specialist at the center. “Winning applicants must bring an adult mentor to sit with them in the stand. Most are in the 7- to 9-year-old range.”
Of the 10 youth hunters who participated, eight had opportunities at a deer. Only four were able to connect, but two of those youth were able to harvest their first deer ever.
“One seven-year-old hunter was with his grandpa when he harvested his deer,” Hafner said. “I don’t know which one of them was more excited.”
The land is closed to deer hunting, except during this youth hunt and a special mobility-impaired hunt. Even though the warm weather and bright moon did not play into the hunters’ favors, 109 deer were seen during the course of the hunt.
“They saw a lot of deer, but some were just not able to make a good, ethical shot so they had to pass,” Hafner said. “We had a great time and got to get some new hunters into the woods through the effort.”
Much like the Casscoe hunt, the program at Fred Berry Conservation Education Center was focused on exposing youth who may or may not have a parent available to teach them the basics of hunting. However, the young men and women at the fourth annual Fred Berry Conservation Education Center “Deer Camp” began long before last weekend.
“Marilyn Doran, who runs the education center, really spends a lot of time working with local schools and organizations to find applicants in the area,” said Ralph Meeker, AGFC deer program coordinator. “In most cases, these kids don’t have any other way to learn about hunting.”
Applicants are required to take and pass a Hunter Education course and participate in a field day, learning to shoot a rifle, before they can participate in the hunt. They also must have a chaperone accompany them on their hunt. Chaperones may be family members or family friends.
“Many times, the chaperone doesn’t have much knowledge about hunting either. In those cases we actually get to teach two people at once. If the youth wants to continue hunting, then we want the chaperone to be prepared to take them again.”
Seven participants arrived at the education center on Friday afternoon to set up their tents, get to know the AGFC mentors that would be taking them and their chaperone on the hunt, and to learn about the outdoors.
“We teach them basic deer biology, hunting tips/techniques, hunting rules and regulations, and why hunting is important to manage healthy wildlife populations,” Meeker said.
Each hunter woke early Saturday morning and made his or her way to hunting blinds with chaperones and mentors to start their first hunt. The hunt took place on education center property, which is closed to hunting except during this event. One neighboring landowner also offered to let a youth and chaperone hunt on his property as well.
All seven young hunters saw success during the hunt; four even scored twice. In all, 11 deer were taken during the weekend. But that wasn’t the end of the young hunters’ educations. Meeker says that AGFC staff helped bring the deer back to the camp, then participants learned how to properly field dress, skin, and process their deer.
“We basically took these youth and their chaperones from start to finish when it comes to deer hunting. It was amazing to see how these kids evolved through this entire process,” Meeker said.
To cap off the weekend events, Saturday night’s meal was full of flavorful venison dishes to help the young hunters and their chaperones get an idea of the different dishes that can be made from the deer taken during the hunt.
“I can’t say enough about all the effort that Ms. Marilyn and her staff put into this hunt; creating a weekend deer camp, complete with food, for seven kids and their chaperones is a daunting task,” Meeker said. “But when they leave the center, these kids will have some great memories, invaluable experience, and most importantly the confidence that they can go do this themselves in the future.”