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MEEKER | On a snowy, blustery weekend in early April, six young turkey hunters and their mentors huddled quietly on pristine private land on the outskirts of Meeker, scanning the terrain intensely, hoping to catch a glimpse of their elusive quarry. Participating in the first turkey hunt of their lives, the youngsters battled the frigid air and their own nervous excitement as they listened to whispered suggestions and tips from their expert advisors.
When at last a turkey came into view, each novice carefully shouldered their borrowed shotguns, remembering to follow the hard-and-fast rules of firearm safety as they gently squeezed the trigger, hoping their aim was true as the echo of the gun’s report receded across the landscape.
“Every kid took a turkey home for their family’s dinner table this year, and you should have seen the smiles on their faces,” said District Wildlife Officer Bailey Franklin of Meeker. “But, we consider bagging a turkey to be a bonus. In keeping with the goals of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hunter Outreach Program, we focus on education, ethics and safety, and I have to say we accomplished our mission again this year.”
Franklin, along with his fellow officers and several volunteers, leads the annual hunt—held in honor of CPW Wildlife Officer Jon Wangnild of Meeker who died in 2013. Each hunting expert provides the critical mentorship novice hunters need to participate in a safe and ethical manner.
“All of these kids have dreamed of hunting but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, primarily because they did not have anyone to show them how,” said Franklin. “Because of the expert advice provided by CPW, and the hard work, dedication and generosity of many locals, these young hunters now have experience and knowledge. Most of these kids can now hunt safely on their own and maybe become mentors themselves in the future.”
CPW officials say in addition to being one of Colorado’s most treasured traditions and critical for the successful management of the state’s wildlife—hunting encourages youth to maintain a healthy lifestyle with responsible outdoor activities as a priority.
After completing the required application, including a 500-word essay, CPW selected Oliver Holmes (10) from Meeker, Cooper Arnold (10) from Meeker, Casey Brink (12) from Meeker, Reed Goedert (12) from Meeker, Ainsley Selle (12) from Meeker and Reilly Seward (12) from Gunnison.
Prior to the hunt, each novice participated in a half-day orientation learning about the safe use of firearms, turkey biology and hunting tactics. Once in the field, they practiced scouting, tracking and how to spot the telltale signs of turkey activity.
For sponsoring CPW’s youth outreach program and for allowing access to their private lands, Franklin expressed appreciation and thanks to several local landowners, including the Jensen Family Ranch, Rocky and Sparky Pappas, Clark White River Ranch, Seven Lakes Lodge, M/R – K/K and Miller Creek Ranches, Mike Fritzler, Pete Swenson, Slash EV Ranch, Scott Casto, Jim Goff, LK Ranch, Lonnie and Todd Shults, James Ritchie, Chad and Eleanor Carter.
In addition, CPW credited three local citizens, Travis Flaherty, Tom Hazelton and Dusty Allen for volunteering their time and equipment, advising three of the young hunters and supporting CPW’s Hunter Outreach Program.
“We are very grateful we have solid 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.
For more information about hunting in Colorado, visit the CPW website.