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Youths schooled in the ways of pheasant hunting

They call it a youth pheasant hunt but the mentoring part plays an underlying role in everything done that day.

Each year for nearly a decade the 3-F Club (Fin, Feather and Fur Conservation Society) stages a Youth Mentoring Day with a pheasant hunt as a highlight of the several sessions that youths ages 12 to 18 participate in and enjoy.

New participants are selected each year; the 30 lucky youths are confirmed months before the event that 3-F Club members Dave Whitt and Dale Shank coordinate.

Whitt and his volunteer crew tend to registrations, seminar presentations, and workings on paper while Shank pilots his Gator around grounds setting up field works at ranges and hunt areas.

After a registration and breakfast, each youth joins one of five groups for presentations on dog training, skeet shooting, archery shooting, trap shooting and turkey-hunting techniques. Everyone attends a section on shooting, which includes safe gun handling, before he or she heads out on a pheasant hunt.

Class and field instructors are mainly club members who have children that were youth-participants in previous years and now attend as volunteer assistant. Chris Cinelli’s two sons, Connor, 16, and Parker, 12, brought their Vizsla hunting dog Sofi.

Other handlers included Russ Colosi with his Brittany spaniel Sachmoe and Ron Kinz with Kami and Zoey, a braque du Bourbonnais breed of pointer that looks a bit like a tail-less, muscular German shorthair pointer.

April Stoddard, 15, and Mega Stoddard, 16, were among the first on a pheasant hunt. The Springville family, with dad and mom, arrived early and were the first to work a field with the Cinellis and Sofi as a warm southerly breeze at their backs pushed scents ahead of the dogs.

Each brace of youths has two cock birds and a hen afield. Part of the learning here is to only shoot the ring-necked male birds, not the basic tan/brown hens that bust from the brush. Each shooter must make that snap decision about shooting and not shooting, all the while paying attention to muzzle direction while walking afield and during the shot.

Like the angler’s one-that-got-away, the Stoddard girls did not harvest a bird, but dad, Mark Stoddard, was beaming throughout the preparations and field stalking that his daughters enjoyed doing with their own shotguns.

Ethan Godfrey, 13, was signed up for the Youth Mentoring Day but could not attend, so his sister, Audrey, arrived with her grandfather, Chuck Godfrey. The Godfrey family has a tradition of squirrel and deer hunting, but grandpa recalls Audrey seeing only a pheasant in the field once before this gathering.

She went afield with handler Ron Kinz and his two pointers. This time, the hunt was into the south wind, the dogs got in positions quickly and put up a nice ringneck for Audrey. The shot was right but the bird did a glide into a distant wooded edge. Kami and Zoey sniffed their way into the woods and seconds later Audrey, Kinz and the dogs emerged with a trophy-sized pheasant.

This scenario was repeated three more times at different sites. Each time, the youths were drawn to the excitement of the hunt; most adults were absorbed in the workings of good dogs afield.

Back at the clubhouse, trap and skeet shooters worked the ranges on the north side and archers shot arrows on ranges to the south. Inside, Quaker Boy Calls rep Arnie Jonathan presented seminars on turkey hunting. Jonathan showed techniques for working box, slate and mouth calls, with each kid working calls with impressive clucks, purrs and other sounds.

“Less is more on New York State hunts,” he told youths about calling presentations when hunting area turkeys that get heavy hunting pressure. As with gun instruction on the ranges, Jonathan stressed the need to know an actual target and keep an awareness of one’s presence while afield and other hunters’ possible presence.

After an enjoyable lunch Joe’s Country Catering put on for all, Dave Whitt delivered a brief but encompassing chat on ethics. Every year each participant is given a copy of Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” with hopes the Leopold’s “land ethic” will be read and absorbed.

Whitt highlighted his talk with the quote, “Humans are the only predator who cares about his prey.” He explained the origins of today’s hunter’s heritage with the origins of the Boone and Crockett Club, formed by outdoors-minded leaders Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, not so much to showcase trophies as to set limits on game harvests with concerns about wildlife survival and habitat.

Whitt explained that Leopold’s “Land Ethic” was developed well before modern conservationists and ecologists began establishing game and environmental management. He ended his brief commentary with the hope that everyone consider a reading or re-reading of Leopold’s brief but inspiring thoughts on the outdoors, ethics that apply even more today.

Whitt thanked all 40 of the 3-F Club volunteers who make this event a success each year, and he also thanked the club for its support. Youths are charged $35 and the program costs about $80 per entrant; the 3-F Club subsidizes the actual cost.

For application details about the 2016 Youth Mentoring event, check with Whitt at 754-2133.