Give the young hunter the full woods experience
This Columbus Day weekend marked the third annual youth hunt for deer where 14- and 15-year-old junior hunters may take a deer of either sex with a firearm when accompanied by a licensed and experienced adult mentor. It’s estimated about 15,000 to 20,000 eligible junior hunters were expected to participate in this year’s hunt. To say youngsters are simply excited about the opportunity would be an understatement. During the past two years, an estimated 60 percent of all eligible junior hunters participated in this early deer hunting opportunity and the DEC estimated they took more than 1,400 deer.
By doing the math it’s easy to see fewer than one in ten are successful, and if bagging a deer is a measure of success then many may be missing something. Being in the woods with a youngster is a marvelous teaching experience and provides a perfect opportunity to develop better woodsmen. While in the woods, take the time to point out various mast-producing trees like beech, oak and black cherry. Show the youngster the highly polished triangular beech nuts and yes, even give them a taste. Show them the difference between a red oak and a white oak tree and point out how to tell them apart. Show them the unequal leaf lobes tipped with bristles of the red oak and then compare them with the rounded, symmetrical lobes of the white oak.
If you encounter one, point out the distinctive white bark of a paper birch and tell them how Native Americans built canoes out of frames covered with birch bark and then sewed them together with long, tough tamarack roots. While you're at it tell them how Native Americans as well as some modern-day hunters use birch bark to make horns for calling moose and then tell them how the birch twigs are highly sought after by deer in the winter months.
If you’re lucky enough to encounter a beaver dam take the time to study the way the structure was built and be sure to point out how the rodent chewed the branch.
Tell the youngster how the beaver was able to fill in the space between the branches by carrying mud pressed against its chest with its front feet.
If you find a turkey feather be sure to point out if it came from a male or a female turkey, and by all means carry a turkey call. I’ve never seen a deer react negatively to a turkey call, and who knows, you might get lucky and actually call in and observe a lost jake or two at close range.
Everyone wants to get a deer but not everybody will, but this doesn’t mean the youngster won’t have fun in the woods. Make it exciting and make it interesting and regardless of the outcome, you can rest assured the youngster won’t forget the experience.