The goal of the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunt Challenge is to get area youth interested in hunting. For youth that need someone to show them the ropes, mentored hunts are offered.
For those that would like to hunt the Oct. 6-7 youth gun deer hunt, free licenses sponsored by the NYDHC are available. All licenses and mentored hunts will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Parents or guardians can call The Lakeland Times office at 715-356-5236 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. if they’re interested in pairing a youth hunter with a mentor.
Joe Ritchie, Northwoods Youth Deer Hunt committee member, has mentored a number of youth hunters. He said it’s a great experience for hunter and mentor alike.
“It’s fun. I tell you, it’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
The participating youth get to experience the hunt and the preparation.
“I usually take the kids out prior to the hunt. Take them to the rifle range. Practice with them and make sure that they can handle the rifle,” Ritchie said.
He wants to make sure the youth is using a firearm that is comfortable.
“I want them to have fun with it.”
Ritchie often enlists the aid of his sons, who are experienced hunters. After sighting in, it’s time for hunter and mentor to put boots to the ground.
“We usually go out in the woods and we build a blind. Either a natural one or a tent blind,” he said.
“We look for sign and look for trails. I let the kids help me find runways, good crossing areas. Places where two runways intersect each other. Then we put a blind off of there maybe 40, 50 yards ... something that they’re comfortable with.
“A lot of times the preparation is more fun than the hunt, you know.”
Though Ritchie said he has used trail cameras, he doesn’t like to let technology and other trappings have too great of an effect on the scouting or the hunt.
“I try to teach them the natural way. I try not to put corn out or anything for them. I want them to kind of learn the old-time way at first,” he said.
He has had some good success with hunters he has mentored. Last year, one youth wanted to get a deer right away and was successful.
“He shot the first deer to come along and that was a doe.”
Mentoring isn’t necessarily limited to the two-day youth hunt. Ritchie has taken kids on other hunts. He said many kids want to come back and hunt after the youth hunt. He took one youth out for a muzzleloader hunt.
“He ended up shooting a doe. He had a ball. He enjoyed that,” Ritchie recalled.
Ritchie noted it has been quite warm to open the mentored youth hunt some of the past few years and that deer are less likely to move then. They don’t always stick to just sitting in a blind, especially if conditions warrant a change of pace.
“Last year [with a mentored youth] we did see some deer, but they were a little far out. So we actually ended up walking a bit and we kicked one up and that’s the deer he shot,” he said.
“Three years ago, my boys made a drive to us and kicked one up and that deer walked right in to us,” he added.
Kids also get to see what comes after the deer is on the ground. Ritchie talked about a youth he mentored last year.
“He shot the deer and I ... showed him how to gut it. But I let them get right in there, and he did. He got his hands dirty.”
He noted that he is cautious when letting the youth proceed with any knife-work. He also said they enjoyed frying up the heart and liver.
Ritchie said he recently got injured in a motorcycle accident, but that it wouldn’t keep him out of the woods.
“I’ll be there for the mentor hunt. Trust me,” he said.
Ritchie said the kids usually like what they see when they get a taste of deer hunting.
“Every one of them that I’ve taken out still hunts. There are no one-and-dones.”
He said it’s satisfying to see youths he mentored have success once they get out on their own, too.
“I see their picture in the paper now with shot bucks and it’s kind of neat to see that they — I’ll say, ‘graduated the class.’”
The 2012 youth hunt
The Wisconsin DNR allows youth hunters to hunt deer with a gun in all deer management units except state park and non-quota units Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 6-7.
The bag limit is one buck per gun buck deer carcass tag plus additional antlerless deer per antlerless deer carcass tag valid for the deer management unit the youth hunter will be hunting.
More information and regulations can be found on the DNR website at dnr.wi.gov.
The mentor program was developed by the NYDHC committee in 2010 as another way to encourage kids to continue the tradition of hunting in the Northwoods.
Those interested in a mentored hunt, becoming a mentor, or simply seeking more information about the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunting Challenge may call Gregg Walker or Heather Holmes at 715-356-5236.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.