MEEKER | On a snowy, cold weekend in mid-April, six young turkey hunters and their mentors huddled quietly on pristine private land on the outskirts of Meeker, scanning the terrain for their elusive quarry. Participating in their first turkey hunt, the youngsters battled the frigid air and their own nervous excitement, listening to whispered suggestions and tips from their expert advisors. When at last a turkey comes into view, the young hunters carefully aim their borrowed shotguns, following the firearm safety lessons learned as part of the hunt before pulling the trigger.
Although considered a bonus that each young hunter took a turkey home for their family’s dinner table this year, in keeping with the mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hunter Outreach Program, the focus of the hunt is education, ethics and safety.
The annual hunt—held in honor of CPW Officer Jon Wangnild who died in 2013—is led by District Wildlife Officer Bailey Franklin of Meeker. Along with many fellow officers and volunteers, they provide the critical mentorship the novice hunters need to hunt in a safe and ethical manner.
“All of these kids dreamed of hunting but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, primarily because they did not have a mentor,” said Franklin. “Because of the expert advice provided by CPW, and the hard work, dedication and generosity of many local people, these young hunters now have experience and knowledge. Most of these kids can now hunt on their own, and maybe become mentors themselves in the future.”
CPW officials say hunting is one of Colorado’s most treasured traditions and is critical for the successful management of the state’s wildlife, today and into the future. In addition, it encourages youth to maintain a healthy lifestyle with outdoor activities as a priority.
The six participants this year, all from Meeker, include Finley Deming, 11; Emma Bauer, 10; Aksel Jonsson, 10; Alan Rivera, 12; Jace Vroman, 10; and Liam Olson, 10.
Prior to the hunt, each novice participated in a half-day orientation learning about turkey biology, turkey hunting tactics and the safe use of firearms. Once in the field, they all learned new skills including scouting, tracking and looking for signs of turkey activity.
For sponsoring CPW’s youth outreach program and for allowing access to their private lands, Officer Franklin expressed sincere appreciation and thanks to the following landowners: Jensen Family Ranch, Rocky and Sparky Pappas, Clark White River Ranch, Seven Lakes Lodge, M/R – K/K and Miller Creek Ranches, White River Lodge, Horse Mountain Ranch, Slash EV Ranch, LK Ranch, Lonnie and Todd Shults, James Ritchie and Chad and Eleanor Carter.
In addition, CPW credited three local citizens, Travis Flaherty, Tom Hazelton and Dusty Allen for volunteering their time and equipment to guide/mentor three of the young hunters and supporting CPW’s Hunter Outreach Program.
“We are very grateful that we have dedicated and generous partners that believe in what we are doing,” said Franklin. “They are actively involved in helping instill a love of the outdoors and hunting in our future generation, and that benefits everyone.”
Landowners or volunteers interested in supporting CPW’s youth hunting programs in Northwest Colorado are encouraged to call Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Meeker office at 970-878-6090.
Anyone interested in learning more about youth hunting opportunities can call the same number and request an application for upcoming youth hunts.
Special to the Herald Times