There were no youth hunting seasons when I was growing up. I learned to deer hunt from my dad, who said he learned from his father-in-law, my maternal grandfather. Dad claims that the hunting techniques that he taught me are those that Grandpa learned from Indian Joe, a Chippewa man who married into the family. When I turned 12, I went to hunter safety class, a rite of passage in my family. I waited anxiously for late November, when I got to head to camp with Dad and my older brother. I learned by sitting on a log next to Dad during the regular deer season. Today, Wisconsin has three special youth hunting seasons, for deer, waterfowl and spring turkey.
The youth deer hunt is open Saturday, Oct. 6 and Sunday, Oct. 7. Youth hunters ages 10 to 15 may hunt deer with a gun in all deer management units except state park units and non-quota units (those where there are no permits issued by WDNR). Youth must buy a gun deer hunting license, and they can harvest a buck. If they purchased an antlerless deer carcass tag valid for the unit in which they are hunting, they can harvest an antlerless deer as well. The standard deer hunting regulations apply, including wearing blaze orange. An important note: grouse hunters and archery hunters who wish to hunt on these days must wear at least 50 percent blaze orange from the waist up. Waterfowl hunters are the only hunters exempt from the blaze orange requirements for clothing and ground blinds.
The youth seasons are generally well received by the hunting public. I hear the most complaints about the youth waterfowl season from hunters who express a concern that these young folks may disturb the birds, impacting the regular season opener. So why have youth hunting seasons? Youth hunting events give hunters ages 10 to15 the chance to learn hunting techniques, build their skills and gain experience without competing against adult hunters. For me, this has meant that I had the opportunity to mentor my nephew in deer and waterfowl hunting, as these were seasons set aside to focus on him and others like him.
Are we gaining hunters through these seasons? In 2010, 11 percent of the population of Wisconsin bought a deer license. That same year, 11,000 youths ages 10 to11 participated in the mentored hunting program. That was 8 percent of Wisconsin’s 10- to 11-year-old children, a ratio close to the adult hunters. These children may have become hunters anyway, but it shows the youth hunting program is being applied. I think it falls on those of us who are hunters to reach out to the youth who have an interest, but maybe not an opportunity, and try to teach them what we know. I have so many hunters who come to me and say, “If the kids don’t see deer when they hunt, how will we ever capture their interest?” There is some truth to that; kids will wonder what is going on if they deer hunt and never see anything, ever. However, the youth hunt is about teaching the kids skills and techniques, making them better hunters to help improve their odds of success. When I took my nephew Jordan out for deer, I had him use my bolt action 30-30 Winchester. We sat out in a crazy lightning storm, and we had deer walk out right in front of us and start feeding. They were probably about 150 yards away, and I told Jordan that was too far to take a responsible shot. We were very close to private land, there was no snow for tracking and I just felt we needed to wait and see if they came closer. Jordan ended up missing a deer later, but he definitely saw deer. He learned techniques, responsibility and ethics that will serve him the rest of his life.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR in Rhinelander, and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.