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Day Outdoors Offers Wonderful Education
By DAVID RAINER
Sitting in the double ladder stand with my godson, Grady, on opening day of the youth deer season recently left me pondering a few items.
For the first time, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board recommended that the youth season be expanded from the traditional Saturday-Sunday before regular gun deer season to a Friday through Monday season.
With our trip on a normal school day, I was sitting there wondering how many young people had come down with “deer fever” on that day.
I’m not sure the educators would agree, but I and obviously the Advisory Board feel that a day outdoors should be a valuable part of a youth’s education with so many other activities competing for a child’s time.
The other thing that kept popping into my head is how fortunate I am to have two young people in my life who absolutely love the outdoors. The aforementioned godson and my nephew, Tanner, don’t need any encouragement to head into the woods in search of a hunting adventure.
Unfortunately, that is not the case nearly as much these days as when I was growing up. Back then, hunting was a significant part of the culture in the rural South. Although I took a hunter education course as an adult, there wasn’t any such thing when I started hunting.
According to Ray Metzler, Hunter Education Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, Alabama is fortunate to have laws that allow young people under the age of 16 to hunt before they take a hunter education course.
“I don’t worry about getting them into the hunter ed course first,” Metzler said. “I make sure we get them in the woods first. I think that’s important. That’s why I like the way our law is written. You don’t have to take hunter ed before you go hunting. In some states, that’s not the case. You actually have to take hunter ed in those states to be able to hunt.
“For that person who is not from a family with avid hunters, you may or may not get that person involved in the outdoors. If you can get them out shooting squirrels or rabbits or doves, or even deer, you take them.”
Metzler and I agree that the best way to introduce a newbie to the outdoors may not be in a deer stand. That’s one of the reasons for the Youth Dove Hunts, which enlists landowners and hunting clubs to host dove hunts all over the state. However, most of those hunts occur well before deer season opens, so if you get the chance to introduce someone to the outdoors through deer hunting, by all means, take them. It will just take a little more effort to ensure the excursion is a pleasurable one.
“For me, taking them early in the season or late in the season is important,” Metzler said. “Early in the season, the opportunity to see a deer is a little better than in the middle of the season. The deer aren’t spooked right now and activity is up early in the season. The deer haven’t gone nocturnal yet. It’s important for them to see something.
“In the middle of the season, the deer will have been pressured and they don’t move as much. It gets a little frustrating for kids or inexperienced hunters when they sit two or three hours in a stand, shooting house or ground blind, whatever the case may be, and they don’t see anything.”
Metzler said if there is anyway possible, make the young hunter or newcomer feel a part of the group.
“I think you have to outfit them to where they feel like they’re a hunter – blaze orange hat and camouflage coat if you can,” he said. “I think it makes them feel better when they’re dressed like everybody else.”
It’s also important that seeing deer and possibly taking a deer is the goal, although there are days when the reward is just being outdoors and enjoying nature.
“It’s like with my daughter on youth weekend,” Metzler said. “We saw some turkeys and got to hear them talking back and forth to each other before they came out into the pasture. We heard them while they were in the woods, and she enjoyed hearing that.
“And you can see raccoons, possums, squirrels, all sorts of birds. There are lots of other things to see other than deer. They need to understand that because they don’t see a deer it’s not the end of the world. You still got to enjoy nature and spend quality time together.”
Metzler recommends, if possible, that young hunters be introduced to deer hunting in some sort of shooting house or enclosure.
“They can move around a little bit without being seen,” he said. “I think that’s a good environment for young hunters, especially if the weather is not good. You can get out of the rain and wind.
“You need to take a blanket or sleeping bag when it’s cold so they can stay warm. And you need to take some snacks and something to drink.”
If possible, Metzler recommends a firearm without heavy recoil or ammunition designed to minimize the recoil.
“There is a lot of ammunition out there that is designed to manage the recoil,” he said. “They make youth model guns these days. I think the firearm needs to fit, but I don’t think the recoil is that big a deal. When they’re shooting at a deer, I don’t think they feel it. If you’re at the range, yeah, they feel it.
“You just need to make sure the scope is mounted to where the young hunter can get a good sight picture. I know with my daughter, we had to make sure she could get her cheek down on the stock and get a good sight picture through the scope.”
Metzler said judging from the number of hunter ed classes conducted each year by the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, demand has remained relatively constant. Individuals born on or after Aug. 1, 1977 are required to successfully complete a hunter education course before they can purchase a hunting license.
“Since hunter education became mandatory, we range from in the 11,000s to high 12,000 range each year,” he said. “We’re holding pretty steady as far as number of hunter ed participants. That’s probably a good thing. But I’m not sure it’s a good measuring stick. I think we need to be concerned if they’re buying a license when they’re 16 or 17.”
Metzler also thinks keeping the hunting regulations as straightforward as possible helps ensure new hunters don’t encounter any unnecessary roadblocks.
“As an agency, we try to have our regulations as simple as we can,” he said. “I’ve had people from other states tell me our regulations are a lot simpler. Some people in Alabama may not think that, but when you compare our regulations to a lot of other states, they’re still pretty simple. And I think that makes it easier to enjoy your hunting trip.”
With the relatively simple rules and abundant opportunities, I challenge every avid hunter to look for a chance to introduce a young or newcomer to the rewarding world of hunting.
PHOTO: Making a young or inexperienced hunter feel a part of the group is important and a little instruction before a youth dove hunt always helps.