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Weather Doesn't Dim Youth Dove Hunt Enthusiasm

By DAVID RAINER

Neither rain, nor mud nor semi-auto shotguns reduced to single shots due to the weather managed to keep youngsters from having a quality day in the outdoors at one of the Youth Dove Hunts hosted by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).

That was proven at a recent hunt near Gilbertown in Choctaw County, where 34 youths and parents/mentors showed up despite a rainy forecast that turned out to be right on target. The rainy summer pattern experienced throughout most of Alabama had already rendered the fields – a combination of hay and corn – into a soggy bottom. But that didn’t deter the youngsters from having a ball in conditions that left many with mud from head to toe, plus big smiles on their faces.

Jena Perry, agriculture teacher at Southern Choctaw High School and certified Hunter Education Instructor, said a day in the outdoors can be an educational opportunity for youngsters and adults alike.

“It’s a great example of a family outing,” Perry said. “It gives the adults something meaningful to do with their kids. It keeps the kids out of trouble. The kids that are the main causes of problems are the ones who don’t have anything to do outdoors.

“Second, we want to teach the kids, and adults, more about the environment and the importance of conservation, being stewards of our natural resources for future generations and that it’s not just ours to waste.”

Perry said any experience outdoors, especially with youth hunts, makes it much easier when it comes time to take the hunter education course, which is required for all hunting license purchasers who were born on or after Aug. 1, 1977.

“Several of these kids here will be going through the hunter education course as they get a little older,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to get hands-on experience. When we talk about firearms safety in the schools, obviously we can’t have functional guns in the school. So for them to get to see it in action puts what they’re learning in the classroom to use.

“Plus, if we don’t have kids who want to hunt, there’s no need for hunter education.”

Perry also thinks teaching agriculture and hunter education goes hand-in-hand.

“I’ve always wanted to do something with kids and teaching them the importance of agriculture and the outdoors,” she said. “There are so many kids who never go outside and they don’t have an understanding of how agriculture and the environment relates to them. Hamburger meat just comes from the grocery store, as far as they’re concerned.

Perry said there is one particular aspect of hunter education that she specifically stresses because the students don’t seem to grasp it the first time it’s mentioned.

“It’s the importance of hunting laws,” she said. “The laws are not just there to torture them – that laws serve useful purposes. We make sure they understand that they can’t hunt any land they want. The biggest thing is getting them to understand that those laws have meaning and they’re there for a reason – either their safety or the protection of the wildlife – and that it is important to maintain the laws and not just a reason to give them a ticket.”

The Choctaw County youth dove hunt came about after Riley Ezell of Butler and Vance Wood, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Conservation Enforcement Officer, talked about reviving the youth hunt in the county after several years of absence..

“We thought it would be a good idea to do it again,” Ezell said. “Vance just took the ball and ran with it. If we don’t get these kids into the outdoors, there’s just so much stuff they can get into that’s bad.”

Ezell lined up the dove fields through his uncle, Larry Adams, who held the hunting rights and landowner Eddie Driscoll. Bubba Carlisle provided all the equipment needed to hold the event. Wood lined up sponsors for the refreshments and drinks, while the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association brought in its portable trap thrower for a little skeet shooting before the hunt started.

“It was a community effort,” Ezell said.

“They’ve all had a wonderful time,” Perry said. “Several of them have been running around sliding in the mud. Some even stayed out in the rain. It didn’t bother them.”

Fun and safety are the two goals for youth dove hunt organizers.

“Adults stay right next to them in the field to make sure the gun is pointed in a safe direction at all times and no low birds,” Perry said. “They had adult supervision shooting skeet and learned about gun safety.

“This is a family event and it helps preserve the tradition of hunting. They’re always learning in history class about how our ancestors had to hunt to feed themselves. It’s important for these kids to learn these skills and understand the tradition of hunting, as well.”

And Wood said at the end of the day one youngster provided all the incentive he needed to hold the hunt again next year.

“One of the boys came up with his big, blue eyes and told me how much fun he had,” Wood said. “That made all the work it took to put this on worthwhile. That is what this is all about, right there.”

Several more youth dove hunts are planned by the ADCNR for the 2009 seasons, mostly in the South Zone. Hunts are scheduled Oct. 3 in Monroe, Henry, Geneva and Escambia counties. Oct. 10 hunts are set for Covington and Escambia counties, while Oct. 17 hunts are set for Geneva and Barbour counties. Covington County also has an Oct. 24 hunt scheduled, while Dale County has a hunt set for Oct. 31.

Youth hunters must be less than 16 years old and accompanied by an adult at least 25 years old or their parent, with a valid state hunting license and a Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.) stamp. All are encouraged to wear eye protection and ear plugs.

Visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/youth-hunts/reservations.cfm for contact information to make reservations for one of the hunts.

PHOTOS – A hay bale provides a lookout point for Eric and Kaylee Weiss as Kaylee’s son, Garrett Graham and cousin Morgan Graham search the skies for birds at a Youth Dove Hunt in Choctaw County recently.

Twelve-year-old Madison Johnson blasts away at a bird as father, Dewayne Johnson, calls his wife to bring a can of WD-40 to the dove field to try to return the 20-gauge to semi-auto mode instead of single-shot.

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