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Posts Tagged ‘youth hunting’

He walked, alone, in the cathedral stillness of the shelterbelt. We’d hung back, me and my camera operator, to let Ben gather his thoughts on this, his first bird hunt. We did it again as the trees opened to a field of waist-high grass, gathering the rest of our party on the dirt road and ultimately cheering as he doubled on ringnecks, solo.

It was a study in what the shooting and hunting “industry” (yes, that’s you, me, and us) now calls “R3,” Recruit, Retain, Re-activate.

Ben was part of the first “R,” and should be a case study in how it works, a lesson here for all of us. Bruce, his across-the-street neighbor, was an avid hunter unlike Ben’s father. An 16-year-old baseball player who plans to be an Army Ranger, he pitches in when something heavy needs lifting, or there are too many groceries for one person to carry. In the course of that neighborly behavior (if only it was more common!), he was acquainted with Bruce’s dog, taxidermy, and passion.

Soon, Bruce was taking Ben to the range, teaching firearms safety, ethics, and shooting skills. Ben had his challenges – right-handed and left-handed conflict that I can relate to, sports and academic distraction, teenage life in general. But he persevered, and so did Bruce. If you’re ever taught someone to shoot, you know of the hills and valleys, the roller-coaster ride of triumph and frustration.

When Bruce won my CZ-USA “Take Your Friend Hunting” contest, there was no question who was going with him to Grand Ciel Lodge in Plankinton, South Dakota. Permission granted, travel arranged, and Ben’s first pheasant hunt would soon be a reality.

The day dawned cold and crisp, blue sky and puffy white clouds. My camera operators were ecstatic, and so were we. Dave Miller of CZ-USA (fresh from another world record-setting effort with four youth shooters) transferred Ben’s clay-target skills to wingshooting; the rest of us laid plans. Bruce’s teaching manifested in safe, skillful shotgunning by Ben, polished by Dave. Then, we were into the field.

It wasn’t long before Brad Boisen’s two Braque Francais skidded to a halt, then cat-danced down a soybean row. Hand on his shoulder to ensure a safe gun mount and swing, I urged Ben ahead of the next point. A stillness in the air … then three roosters cackled skyward.

You know what happened next. And it didn’t include a retrieve. But so it goes – who wasn’t as rattled by their first pheasant flush?

Initial jitters over, we re-grouped and skirted standing corn, finding a point here, a bird there, and a lot of holes in the air as everyone including our newbie dialed in a new CZ “all terrain” gun (you’ll get your preview soon), new birds, and an adrenaline overdose.

What Ben was thinking when he made his solo forays, we’ll never know. Do you remember your first hunt? I can tell you one thing. He’s now a hunter.

Even the blind hog finds the occasional acorn, and we get it right some times, introducing newcomers to our world. That’s the lesson I took away from our visit to Grand Ciel. Bruce’s lessons could be our own: be visible, open and frank about your hunting lifestyle. Interested kids, neighbors, friends, co-workers will inquire. Be situationally aware, sensitive to their questions and interest in your weekend plans, your dog, your wild food.

I know it’s hard as giving up your secret spots, but share your knowledge, tell stories. Like Freemasons, the interested ones will ask more questions, including if they might join you. Then, it’s about firearms safety, skills, ethics, and practical application of each on trips to the dog-training yard, range and into the field. Most will wash out, some will stick.

Forever.

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This is how you welcome a newcomer, according to Buddy.

This is how you welcome a newcomer, according to the master of the method, Buddy.

The Grandfather and I conspired, I admit. Whose dog would best deliver a bird so that the Grandson had a controlled, safe shot at his first pheasant? He’d broken a ton of clay targets, but never a feathered one, and deserved the best possible introduction to our passion.

I lobbied for Grandfather’s Lab. What a great story that would make! But at his insistence, my wirehair Buddy got the nod. A point, not a flush, would give us more time to safely get the gun to the shoulder, feet pointed in the right direction, staying aware of the other hunters.

The field of head-high grass held promise, and once we entered, a full measure of adrenaline. Three adults, one 12-year-old, and my reliable dog. Bird up! And my veterinarian had the hard left crosser on the ground. Buddy leapt the rushing creek, tracked expertly, jumped the creek again with his feathered burden, and delivered to me waiting on the other side. Good boy.

Grandson was clearly psyched up from the flush, and I had to keep one eye on the uneven ground, one on Buddy, and a hand on his shoulder to keep things in control. A slog or two later, Grandfather called “point,” and we high-stepped our way through the clinging vegetation. Ready.

The rest is a blur. Someone walked in to flush. I kept one hand on Grandson’s shoulder for safety. Veterinarian watched from a distance. Buddy trembled in anticipation of a mouthful of feathers. Brrrrrr! Bang! Bird down!

Another track, a leap across the creek and back, and delivery, then fist bumps and high fives. Grandson’s first pheasant, a pleasant weight in his game bag. Photos all around.

Welcome to the fraternity, WM.

(If you want to take a kid hunting, enter my contest here and maybe you’ll be joining us on the shoot.)

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This year’s “spokespups” …

These little guys hope you’ll fill their food bowls and raise some money for six deserving groups … and win a prize for YOU.

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