On Saturday, March 16, despite the cold and wind, twelve boys, ages eight to 16, woke early, dressed in warm clothes and met for a hunters breakfast at Braums before heading out on what for many of them would be their first pheasant hunting experience. Joining them were members of Rooster Booster Pheasants Forever Chapter. Some were fathers, and some were friends, but all were mentors who had one goal in mind-- to give the boys a positive experience with the outdoors and carry on a tradition that in Kansas has been losing ground.
“We look at Kansas as so rural that it is unaffected by the social changes in urban areas, but there has been a marked decline in the percentage of residents who hunt,” said Mike Miller, an official at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s Pratt operations office.
The kids were then taken to Crosby’s Wildgame Adventures where the kids were instructed on how to shoot clay targets by Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism shooting instructor Jim Kellenberger. The clay targets and ammunition were donated by Pheasants Forever and KDWPT.
“The department’s involvement is part of the Pass It On Kansas hunter retention and recruitment program the state started in 2000,” said Miller. “It gives kids a chance to experience the outdoors. One of our main goals is to get kids outside.”
The youth participants then went on a European style pheasant hunt hosted by Jason and Lance Crosby where they harvested 48 out of 100 pheasants, said Rooster Booster member Scot Moeder. In a European hunt, birds are released from a tower, in this case, an old barn. Birds are supplied by local game bird producers. Hunters take up positions at stations surrounding the barn. Because the birds are released from a high vantage point, they can travel further and faster than in a field situation. While hunters will generally take a high percentage of the birds, many fly out of range and land in surrounding fields, replenishing the supply for “clean up” hunts later.
All participants helped clean the birds following the hunt, a condition the club set as a requirement for taking part. They learned the proper way to prepare the birds, and then they were divided up equally for the boys to take home, Moeder said.
One of the biggest benefits of the experience, in Miller’s opinion, is the one on one attention the boys received during the outing. As a boy, his first hunting experience came at age 11 after moving from an urban area of Illinois to Greensburg. There, the second Sunday of November, everyone took off from school and work to go pheasant hunting. Miller said he was hooked the very first time.
“ Kids respond to mentorship at these events,” he said. “The attention I received had an impact on who I am, where I live, and what I chose to do. These experiences can be very meaningful.”
While Miller admits some will respond as he did, others may only casually enjoy the sport, and still others will decide it’s not for them. Regardless, all will have a better understanding of the importance of wildlife management policies and be more supportive of the department in the future.
According to Moeder, out of the 12 boys that participated in Saturday’s hunt, at two-thirds had never shot a bird before, though one or two may have gone on a hunt in the past. Each participant received a hat, shirt, hunting vest, youth glasses and ammunition provided by Pheasants Forever.
The youth pheasant hunt is something the local chapter does each year with the money raised from the Annual Pheasants Forever Banquet.