Young hunters need early success

This year’s youth deer (and bear) hunt in New York state, held again over the three-day Columbus Day weekend, will be remembered for its blistering hot temperatures, which limited deer movement.

Sure, some youngsters connected on a buck or antlerless whitetail, but for many others it was a frustrating time in the steamy woods. Suffice to say, no kids complained about being cold. But deer movement – and for that matter, any kind of wildlife activity – was stalled as temperatures doggedly remained well into the 70s even at sundown.

My hunting partner this year, 15-year-old Noah Johnston of Owego, had a frustrating two days of hunting with me in Tioga County. It was downright brutally hot Saturday afternoon, and still too warm for hunting purposes on Sunday. He had some family activities that kept him out of the woods on Monday, but by then I think we were both ready to wave the white flag.

It happens, and it’s hunting. And we experienced deer hunters know it’s not unusual to strike out and not see any whitetails during an evening sit. But I wondered what Noah must have been thinking as we sat for three hours without a sign of a deer, or on Saturday, even a squirrel or chipmunk.

Some hunters feel it’s actually a good thing when a young hunter gets a taste of “real” hunting those days, when things just don’t happen out there and we come up empty. I can understand that school of thought, but I disagree when it comes to a first-time hunter. I think they need an early taste of success, to feel that excitement and adrenaline rush that comes when you encounter a deer and take that first-ever shot at a whitetail – the sense of accomplishment when you close the deal with a fine shot and clean kill and fill out your harvest tag.

Young hunters will have plenty of opportunities to experience the slow, sometimes frustrating, times in the deer woods and during other hunting seasons. But if they have had some success, they know those slow days are ones that simply tip the odds in our favor later, and they’re worth the time spent, worth the wait for that opportunity to present itself and again experience that rush of adrenaline.

I’m not sure that, after those two scorching hot days afield, Noah really knows what hunting is about. I hope he gives it another chance, maybe next week during neighboring Pennsylvania’s three-day, antlerless-only youth deer hunt, or next spring during the youth turkey hunt, or during the regular deer, turkey or small game seasons.

A little success will go a long way toward becoming a dedicated hunter.

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