Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pheasant Hunts Provide Fun For Young Gunners

For several years, Jay Bossart has been telling himself it’s time to step down as coordinator of Little Sewickley Sportsmen’s Club’s mentored youth pheasant hunt.
Hasn’t happened yet.
Bossart, of Pleasant Unity, said the event is too much fun to give up. It’s one of 26 held across the state — 12 in Southwestern Pennsylvania alone — designed to introduce pheasant hunting to kids ages 12 to 16.
“Every year I say I’m going to quit it, and every year I’m back at it again,” Bossart said. “But once you get those kids out there, some of them having never hunted before, and you see the looks on their faces, it’s fun. It’s a blast.”
Donald Long knows the feeling.
“I have more fun watching the kids than I do hunting myself,” said Long, of Natrona Heights, who runs the youth pheasant hunt at Bull Creek Rod and Gun Club in Tarentum with Springdale’s Ray Zbikowski. “To take kids out and then see them come back down out of the field with a pheasant or two in their hand, you don’t see smiles bigger than that.”
The mentored pheasant hunting program is done in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It supplies clubs with birds at a rate of two cockbirds per young hunter, with a few hens mixed in to teach the youngsters to recognize the difference between them. The hunts are held Oct. 6 on public lands or private lands open to public hunting through the agency’s public-access program.
Youth hunters need not have a hunting license, though they must have completed a hunter-safety course and wear the required orange.
The free hunts can all have their own flavor. All involve safety education. Most have volunteers who bring their bird dogs so young hunters can see how they work and benefit from their noses. A few offer more. At Bull Creek, for example, youngsters get breakfast and lunch along with an opportunity to shoot trap.
The goal all along has been to recruit young hunters, said game commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County. Coordinating a youth hunt there for several years showed him that they work — or have the potential to — because kids always see game, usually get to shoot and often bag a pheasant, he said.
“We survey the kids after each hunt, and what they’re saying is that they want more of this and more often,” Delaney said.
But parents and other adults are key, too, he added.
“I really realized how hard it is for parents to make the time to take the kids to do this. On a Saturday, you’re competing with football, you’re competing with soccer, you’re competing with all these things to give the kids a day afield,” Delaney said.
“If the parents don’t support that, if there’s not a dad or mom or aunt or grandfather willing to get the kids out, this just simply isn’t going to work.”
Putting on a hunt involves a lot of time and effort and a bit of money from local clubs. But it’s all worth it, Long said.
“It’s for the kids, to get them interested in hunting. If we can do that, it keeps them off the street, it keeps them out of trouble, they learn discipline, have fun, all that stuff,” he said. “It’s really neat.”

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