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MEEKER — The Colorado Division of Wildlife and a Meeker-area ranch recently hosted a very special youth only turkey hunt. The once-in-a-lifetime private land hunt, held in mid-April at the Seven Lakes Ranch east of Meeker, was coordinated by local DOW personnel and volunteers from the ranch.
Many young people applied but only three were selected for this year’s opportunity. Applicants for the hunt were required to write an essay about hunting traditions and why they wanted to participate. The youth that were selected to participate in the 2008 spring turkey hunt were Alex Smith, 13, from Meeker, Tristan Spainhower, 9, from Parker, and Joseph Newman, 11, from Meeker.
Seven Lakes Ranch owner Greg Norman and ranch staff including Judy Byrd and Tony Decker were very supportive of the DOW youth hunting program and should be commended for their generosity and efforts which made this youth hunting event possible. Seven Lakes Ranch offers prime wildlife habitat in the White River Valley for a tremendous diversity of species, including wild turkey and big game.
Youth participants were required to go through a half-day hunter orientation prior to participating in the turkey hunt. The kids learn that hunting isn’t just about shooting an animal. The youth hunters and their parents were given presentations by DOW officers on wild turkey biology, game management, hunter safety and ethics, state laws, and turkey hunting and calling techniques. Youth participants received free gifts from the DOW and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), including turkey calls, camouflage clothing, an annual membership to NWTF and wildlife guides and literature. After the classroom part of the orientation, the youth hunters were taken to the Meeker Sportsmans Club shooting range where they received hands-on training from DOW officers. The three young men were reminded of firearm and hunter safety principals and also instructed on marksmanship and shot placement. A live fire session reinforced the skills. DOW supplied the .20-gauge youth-model shotguns, ammunition, and necessary turkey hunting equipment for each youth that participated in the hunt.
Following the range time, the youth hunters and their mentors were taken into the field on the evening prior to the hunt where they were shown turkey scouting techniques including the use of calls to locate “gobblers” and how to identify turkey sign in the field (tracks, scat, feathers, etc.). During the pre-hunt scouting trip several turkeys were seen and heard gobbling along the White River. Even though the weather was snowy and cold the next morning, seeing the turkeys really got everyone excited for the upcoming hunt.
During each day of the two-day turkey hunt, each youth hunter and their parent/mentor were assigned to a DOW officer who guided them on Seven Lakes Ranch property. After the morning hunt, the DOW provided a lunch at Bel-Aire State Wildlife Area where everyone warmed up and prepared for the afternoon hunt. All of the youth hunters had the opportunity to see and hear wild turkeys and many other types of wildlife while hunting on this beautiful parcel of property along the upper White River valley. Two out of three of the youth who participated were fortunate enough to harvest a wild turkey on the hunt. After turkeys were harvested in the field, DOW officers showed the youth hunters how to properly field dress and care for the turkey. DOW provided the successful hunters with a plaque for mounting of the tail fans so that the youth could proudly display their turkey for years to come.
“It is safe to say that all of the kids learned a great deal, had the opportunity to see lots of wildlife and all left knowing that a successful hunt isn’t always about whether you fill your tag or not,” said Bailey Franklin, DOW District Wildlife Manager who coordinated the event. “All three of the young hunters experienced “gobbler fever” when they heard and saw the male turkeys strutting towards them during the hunt. It was great to see them get so much enjoyment from this opportunity. It’s an experience and memory that will last a lifetime.”
One goal of the DOW youth hunting program is to encourage youth and their families to spend more time outdoors hunting and fishing. Statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Census Bureau indicate that the number of hunters and fishermen is on the decline national. It’s estimated that sportsmen numbers have declined an average of four percent each year since 1990. Surveys indicate factors such as a lack of places to hunt and fish, lack of mentors and busy lifestyles all contribute to the slow decline of our outdoor heritage. A strong partnership between dedicated landowners, DOW and conservation organizations like the NWTF has provided a new vision for future hunters and fishermen of Colorado. DOW is committed to continuing to work with landowners to provide access to private lands, train Huntmasters and volunteers to teach, coach and mentor young hunters.
Unit 23, near Meeker, is a limited unit for wild turkey hunting and the population has grown considerably, especially on private lands along the White River. Wild turkeys were first transplanted to the area by DOW in 1994. A total of 24 wild turkeys were initially transplanted near Miller Creek that spring. Today, DOW estimates that there are approximately 150-200 wild turkeys in the upper White River Valley. While the introduction was successful, the turkey habitat is marginal due to the severe winter weather.
Through the DOW Hunter Outreach Program, youth under the age of 18 may submit applications for the opportunity to participate in a spring youth turkey hunt on private lands in Colorado. To increase youth participation, the Colorado Wildlife Commission in 2007 authorized the DOW to issue up to 50 turkey licenses statewide each year for youth turkey hunts. Using those and other licenses, the DOW Hunter Outreach Programs seeks to expose young hunters to quality experiences that will give them basic skills and a positive experience in the field. The goal of bringing the tradition of hunting to young people cannot be accomplished without the help of private landowners, such as Seven Lakes Ranch.
If you are a landowner interested in sponsoring a youth hunting event (big game, small game, turkey, etc.) or if you are a volunteer who would like to help with a youth hunting event, please call the Meeker DOW Office at (970) 878-6090 and ask for more information about the Hunter Outreach Program.