Applications are now being taken for a free mentored youth deer hunting weekend at a Northeast Washington wildlife area in late August, and it’s geared to kiddos 12 to 16 who’ve never hunted before and don’t have anybody to show them how.
It’s being put on by WDFW, a local tribe and conservation organizations for youngsters who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to go hunting, as well as to teach them about hunting ethics, sighting in, field-dressing and other facets of our noble tradition.
“This effort is part of the mission of [the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Inland Northwest Wildlife Coluncil, Kalispel Tribe, First Hunt Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and more] to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters and keep the hunting tradition alive in Washington,” says state agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman in Spokane.
She says a few of the 12 available spots have already been claimed, but the rest are still open for kids in the above age range who’ve never hunted, plus their families.
If last year’s first edition of the hunt is any indication, it’s sure to be a great time filled with lots of smiles, camaraderie and for some lucky youths, meat for the family freezer.
According to Lehman, the camp will occur August 26-28 at the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area headquarters outside Kettle Falls, northwest of Colville.
“Friday will be educational seminars such as ethics of hunting, asking landowners for permission to hunt their property, properly tagging harvested animals, recommended gear for deer hunting, target practice/sighting in guns at the gun range, etc. Friday night and Saturday morning mentors will take participants out to hunt. There will be CWD testing and instruction on how to field dress and clean a deer Saturday late morning and early afternoon. Those who don’t get a deer Friday or Saturday will go back out on Sunday,” Lehman says.
As the opportunity is being held outside of general seasons, the dozen youths will be hunting on damage tags that have been shared by local landowners as a way for them to support the effort and heritage of the hunt, not to mention thin the herd depredating their crops, a win the whole way around.
This is the second year what’s known as the “Chris Christensen Memorial Hunt” will occur, named for the “avid outdoorsman” and First Hunt Foundation mentor who had served for 20 years in the US Special Forces before taking on a 35-year second career in what was then known as the Washington Department of Game.
“He was never too busy to take the time to mentor and pass on some of the tips and tricks he learned over his full life of memories and experiences,” a flyer for last year’s event says about Christensen, who passed away in May 2021 after battling cancer.
Marie Neumiller, INWC executive director, participated in the inaugural event and calls it “an amazing three-day experience” in which youths receive “professional instruction in safety, conservation, game identification, hunting techniques, game processing, and more” and then go on a one-on-one hunt with a First Hunt Foundation mentor.
“As the Washington state director for First Hunt and INWC director I’m a little biased, but I think this is absolutely one of the best R3 opportunities out there,” Neumiller says.
R3 refers to recruitment, retention and reactivation, and last month after much stakeholder input including from this magazine’s editor, WDFW published an updated plan to bring more people into or back into fishing and hunting, activities the agency calls “a way of life for many Washingtonians – a pastime passed down from generation to generation.”
That’s the goal up in Kettle Falls – to kindle an interest among those who haven’t been exposed to hunting before and possibly share the experience with family and friends over the subsequent years and decades. This spring, WDFW along with the National Wild Turkey Federation (which is also participating next month along with RMEF) and others held a first mentored turkey hunt for all ages and backgrounds in the same area.
“My favorite memory from last year was the evening after the Saturday hunt,” recalls Neumiller. “All the kids were sitting in a ring telling their hunting tales, in an almost exact mirror of the adult’s ‘campfire’ session from the evening before. During that moment one of the teen hunters returned to camp with his deer. All the kids ran over to celebrate his harvest and started talking about what venison meals they were going to cook for their families when they got home from camp. They even ran to celebrate with the kids that were not successful – the little group just kept growing as each hunter returned and shared their story.”
“I wish I had been recording because it’s hard to put the emotion of that moment into words,” Neumiller added.
Here’s hoping that 2022’s mentored youth hunt in Northeast Washington yields some of the same feels as last year’s, as it most assuredly will.