For three Colorado youngsters, spending chilly, late April weekends enjoying a free turkey hunt on private land and learning hunting strategies from Colorado Division of Wildlife officers is their first step toward what can become a life-long passion.
By Bailey FranklinDivision of WildlifeSpecial to the Herald TimesRBC I For three Colorado youngsters, spending chilly, late April weekends enjoying a free turkey hunt on private land and learning hunting strategies from Colorado Division of Wildlife officers is their first step toward what can become a life-long passion.Each year several lucky kids are selected to participate in the annual Youth Turkey Hunt–part of the Division of Wildlife’s successful Hunter Outreach program. The 2011 winners are Brennan Jensen, 10, Caitlyn Shepherd, 13, and Elijah Newman, 11–all from Meeker. They were selected from a group of kids who had just completed their hunter education class.“With the continued success of the Hunter Outreach program, including events like the guided turkey hunt, we anticipate interest and support from additional private landowners around Meeker,” said district wildlife manager Bailey Franklin, who coordinates the turkey hunt each year. “We look forward to giving many more youths the same opportunity in the future.”In addition to passing the required hunter safety exam, the three young participants were required to go through a half-day orientation where they learned wild turkey biology, hunter safety and ethics, state laws, turkey hunting and calling techniques and how hunting is used for wildlife management.After the classroom orientation, the young hunters were taken to the Meeker Sportsman’s club shooting range for additional firearm safety training. The Meeker Sportsman’s club donated range time and their facilities and has been a strong supporter of the program. The division loaned youth model shotguns and turkey hunting equipment to participants who did not already have their own.District wildlife managers Jon Wangnild, Mike Swaro and Terry Wygant were the primary guides for the participants again this year. They patiently taught the youngsters useful turkey hunting techniques including the use of calls to locate “gobblers” and how to identify turkey signs in the field.With the skills learned from his division mentor, Jensen was fortunate enough to harvest a wild turkey despite harsh spring weather conditions which made this year’s hunt very challenging. The 10-year-old then learned a lesson about how to properly field dress and care for wild turkey.By providing access to their private lands, the enthusiastic help from Nine Mile Guest Ranch owners Rocky and Sparky Pappas and Seven Lakes Lodge owner Greg Norman made for a successful hunt. Landowner Mike Clark also allowed hunting on his property.Turkey hunting is one of the fastest growing forms of hunting, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the overall total number of hunters and anglers nationwide has declined every year since 1990. Surveys indicate that a lack of mentoring, access to places to hunt and fish and busier lifestyles are among the reasons for people not getting outdoors.In an attempt to reverse the trend, the division’s Hunter Outreach program has led sportsman’s organizations, private landowners and many other partners in efforts to teach hunting and fishing skills, increase opportunities and inform the public about the benefits of hunting and wildlife management.“The fundamental goal of the Hunter Outreach program is to expose youth to a quality experience and give them basic skills so they will continue with the sport into the future,” said division Hunting Outreach coordinator Jim Bulger. “Without the help of private landowners and other stakeholders, we’d be unable to accomplish the goal of providing that great experience.”If you are a landowner interested in providing access for the 2012 youth turkey hunting event or any other DOW youth hunting program, please call the Division’s Meeker Office at (970) 878-6090.Youth and parents interested in learning more about youth hunting opportunities can also contact the Meeker DOW office and request an application for upcoming youth hunts.