Youth Outdoor Adventures Cements Skills on Field and Stream

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

There was a time before iPods and X-Box, before Dance Dance Revolution and the Internet, before two-income families and traveling soccer teams when kids came by their hunting skills naturally. He started with a slingshot or a BB gun and graduated to a .22 rimfire or a .410 shotgun to chase squirrels and cottontail rabbits. She stalked mallards in ditches and tagged along with dad to deer camp.

Today, families are busier than ever and kids need instant gratification or they quickly lose interest. Time to hunt and fish is sandwiched between kids' sports season schedules and parents' career priorities.

The trouble is if a boy or girl is going to grow up to be an all-around sportsman, the best chance to gain those skills is in the formative years between the ages of 8 and 18.

With these things in mind, one hunter decided to make a difference. Jeff DuPont, the owner of Wild Winds Ranch, a shooting preserve in Grass Valley, Oregon, came up with the concept of an outdoor skills day. Instead of classroom sessions, he implemented a hands-on curriculum with the help of six instructors and a host of volunteers. Sportsman's Warehouse contributed several cases of shotgun shells to the effort.

When she heard about it, the first question my 14-year-old asked was, "Will there be any other kids my age?"

"Yes, dear," I said. "Unfortunately, there'll probably be boys there. We'll try to dress you in something frumpy."

We arrived the night before. A few kids were watching a movie on the television. Others were playing cards. Out in the barn, the dogs were restless with the prospect of impending action.

After breakfast, the groups were formed in teams based on age. The oldest would hunt first, while the 12- and 13-year-olds would shoot sporting clays. Group three, the younger kids, would start with fly-fishing lessons on the ponds.

Caleb, Jacob, Patrick, Tyler and Tiffany hunted in a line, the pointers ranging back and forth in front of them. Safety was the primary concern and each hunter had a coach at his shoulder, watching that fields of fire were observed. When Kaid, the white English pointer, went on point in a clump of sage, Patrick was closest. When the bird flushed, Patrick knocked it down. Tiffany shot the next two birds while the boys looked on.

When everyone had bagged a bird or two (or three), we rotated out of the field and stepped up to the sporting clays line. Each teen had 250 rounds of ammunition and an instructor at his or her shoulder.

One of the shooting instructors was Gene Harrison, a retired teacher, who had a recalcitrant pupil named Jeff DuPont a long time ago. He had to use a paddle on the boy. DuPont's signature is on the paddle.

Clays came from six stations to tower like a pheasant, cross like a chukar, rise like a mallard, or bounce like my favorite, the rabbit. Tiffany broke her first three clay pigeons and I heard one of the boys groan. She missed the fourth bird and I saw a look of triumph pass between two of the boys. Her concentration had cracked.

Though Tiffany had out-shot the boys on the pheasant hunt, they bested her on the clays course.

The kids were taught how to play Annie Oakley and Backer-Upper (sporting clays games) and how to shoot as a team. As luck would have it, Tiff tired of the shooting and I was able to step in and break a few birds and bunnies with her shotgun. And miss a bunch more.

When all the shotguns were racked at the end of the shooting, DuPont's nine-year-old Jarred walked around and checked that each gun's safety was in the 'safe' position.

After a barbecue lunch, the younger kids walked out to the pheasant fields and the oldest kids headed to the trout ponds. Wild Winds Ranch supplied the fly rods, while a coach taught casting lessons, how to tie a half-dozen knots and how to catch and release trout. A few fish agreed to play hooky to complete the lesson.

Then there were birds to clean. The parents made themselves scarce while Alex Estrada, who'd been there on each of the pheasant hunts, helped the youngsters through the process of cleaning a pheasant. At the end of it, each boy and girl had birds to bring home and the sense of accomplishment that comes from bagging game for the table. Try that with an X-Box!

On the way home, Tiffany left her iPod in its case. We talked about pheasants and hunting and boys. "That was fun," she said. "Do you think we could do that again?"

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