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MEEKER I Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hunter Outreach Program provides opportunities to aspiring hunters by offering mentored hunts across Colorado. As part of the program and what is now a yearly tradition in Meeker, three lucky young hunters enjoyed a guided, private land turkey hunt on April 11 and 12.
The novices learned turkey hunting skills as well as lessons about ethics and responsibilities from local district wildlife managers and local landowners.
This year, the annual youth turkey hunt was held in memory of District Wildlife Manager Jon Wangnild of Meeker, who died tragically in a horseback riding accident in June 2013.
Fellow officers remember Wangnild as a tireless and committed officer who helped organize and promote Meeker’s youth turkey hunt since its inception in 2008.
“Jon had great passion for life, his job and these youth hunts,” said District Wildlife Manager Bailey Franklin. “He may be gone, but his legacy lives on with every kid who has gone through this program and through all the young hunters who will participate in the future.”
Wangnild continued to actively participate in the youth hunt and many other youth outreach opportunities in the area until the day he died. During his 14 years of service to the state, he taught several thousand children of all ages about wildlife, the importance of conservation and having respect for the traditions and ethics of hunting.
Franklin, who worked closely with Wangnild for 10 years, says he and his fellow district wildlife managers will honor the fallen officer’s passion and commitment by continuing to educate future generations about Colorado’s natural resources.
Enjoying the special spring turkey hunt in 2014 were 14-year-old Dayton Willey of Meeker, 16-year-old Catherine Camarotte of Elbert and 17-year-old Dylan Keller of Arvada. Each young hunter recently passed their Hunter Education course and was selected for the hunt after successfully applying for the opportunity.
“These are really great kids,” Franklin said. “They had a fantastic time and the looks on their faces tells me all I need to know about how much they enjoyed getting outdoors and hunting their first turkey.”
Mentors and guides included CPW district wildlife managers Mike Swaro, Terry Wygant, Jeff Goncalves and CPW biologist Kyle Battige. Landowners and managers who provided key mentorship and guiding expertise included 9-Mile Guest Ranch manager Travis Flaherty and Tom Hazelton, manager of the Big Mountain Ranch and the Horse Mountain Ranch.
By pairing the young hunters with these experienced veterans, the youth learned valuable outdoor skills and gained knowledge and confidence, all critical skills that can help inspire a novice’s future participation on their own.
“There are many inexperienced hunters, both young and older, who want to participate but don’t have anyone who can show them how,” Franklin said. “That’s where our outreach programs come in.”
Prior to the hunts, the youth participated in a required, half-day orientation where they learned more about hunter safety, ethics, state laws, wild turkey biology and hunting techniques from their mentors.
As they have each year, the Meeker Sportsman’s Club offered the free use of its range for practice and additional firearms education. Colorado Parks and Wildlife loaned youth model shotguns and turkey hunting equipment if the participants did not have their own. The kids also received a variety of prizes and food for their hunt.
Each hunter who successfully harvested a turkey learned how to properly field dress and care for their bird, a critical part to the process.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Franklin said. “After today, many of these kids will grow up as hunters and conservationists, then pass this knowledge and skills on to their kids, and so on. This effort is very important for the future of wildlife and habitat conservation in Colorado and the country.”
Hunting access was provided by the Jensen Family Ranch properties, currently leased by Rocky and Sparky Pappas and Travis Flaherty, Clark White River Ranch owner Mike Clark, Big Mountain Ranch owners Jim and Jody Goff, Horse Mountain Ranch owner Scott Casto, Seven Lakes Lodge owner Greg Norman and landowners Lonnie and Todd Shults.
“We cannot thank these generous landowners enough,” Franklin said. “We are grateful to have such incredible people in our community who are committed to conservation, wildlife management and youth outreach. We could not offer this special youth hunt opportunity without their support.”
Landowners who are interested in supporting Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 2015 youth turkey hunting program or any other youth hunting program in northwestern Colorado are encouraged to call Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Meeker office at 970-878-6090.
Youth and parents interested in learning more about youth hunting opportunities can also call the Meeker office and request an application for upcoming youth hunts. For more information about the Hunter Outreach Program, go to www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/HunterOutreach.aspx