With a successful ninth year for the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunting Challenge in the books, it was time to hand out the prizes and accolades and just have a good time celebrating the hunt.
Sunday’s NYDHC banquet saw its largest crowd ever. More than 420, including nearly 180 youth hunters, filled the Lakeland Union High School commons for the event.
The 2012 seasons saw 211 youth participants in the NYDHC, the highest number ever. Participants took more than 130 deer.
The crowd applauded loudly when Gregg Walker, Lakeland Times publisher and NYDHC committee member, revealed the numbers.
Of course, making the challenge a success has taken a cumulative community effort, Walker pointed out. He thanked the numerous sponsors.
“[The sponsors] are responsible for this event. They believe strongly in hunting and the heritage of hunting. Whether it be deer hunting, duck hunting, trapping – you name it, they support it,” Walker said.
Walker noted the growth that has taken place, saying that, in its first year, 2004, there were 30 hunters entered in the NYDHC.
Walker also thanked those serving as NYDHC committee members and volunteer hunting mentors. Those mentors make themselves available to introduce interested kids to hunting – from scouting to shooting to sitting on stand.
Committee chairman Marv Smith counts himself among the mentors.
“Our mentor hunt this year, I think, went over well,” Smith told the crowd. “We got some of these young people out.”
Smith, along with youth hunter Alexis Martinez, related the story of a mentored hunt that saw Martinez taking her first-ever deer during the youth gun hunt.
DNR conservation warden supervisor Dave Walz discussed the Wisconsin 2012 hunt, saying that deer hunter numbers grew statewide.
“We’re bucking that downward trend,” Walz said.
He also showed a map of concentrations of record book trophy deer – a map that reveals Wisconsin as the top spot for record book entries.
“There are no greener pastures,” Walz assured the crowd.
Walz discussed gun safety as well, thanking vigilant hunters and offering kudos to Wisconsin’s many hunter safety instructors.
Minocqua Lions Club generously provided and served dinner once again. Before the dinner, youth hunters shared stories and participated in the games and mini-seminars at the event.
“I got an eight-pointer opening weekend of bow season,” Ethan Metz, LUHS student, said.
Metz’s buck, with a score of 20-1⁄4, took third place in the archery division.
Gabrielle Rehm, 15, said she enjoys hunting and the youth challenge, and that she was attending her third banquet. She’s awaiting her first deer, something she’s certain will come in due time.
Among the mini-seminar presenters was wildlife artist Nate Stiegler. He was working on a whitetail watercolor piece at the banquet and noticing the excitement in the air.
“People are very enthused,” Stiegler said. “It’s neat to see all the kids excited about learning about all the different things from hunting to safety things ... everyone’s real excited to be here.”
As for the piece he was working on that was especially for the banquet, he said, “I do a live sketch in front of people and then I donate that. They give it away.”
Harley Benson had a Pope and Young Scoring Challenge seminar. Youth hunters were guessing the score of a set of whitetail antlers that Benson had on display.
“I’ll go through them and find out who is closest,” Benson said. “Then that’s the prize winner.”
Benson also had some interesting antler oddities on display, including what he believes to be the world’s smallest matched set of shed antlers.
In another chance to win a prize, kids were guessing how many shell casings were in a jar put out by Jane and Marv Smith.
Wade Wentland brought in archery equipment and held an archery shoot. The winner secured a generous gift certificate from JD Archery.
Marty Kwiatkowski had a trapping display and North Country Taxidermy displayed a number of animal furs.
Jane Smith had an interesting display of varied antique traps that were once used on anything from moles and gophers to bears.
Marv Smith demonstrated fish skinning, showing how fish are prepared for mounting and explaining how a fish mannequin is shaped from foam and used to fill out the fish skin.
Carl Johnson was available to talk bow hunting tactics, equipment or whatever else with youth.
Dave Walz had a “Laser Shot” instructional game for the kids. Various hunting scenarios play themselves out on a screen, while the player takes “shots” with the game’s gun.
“There’s some shoot/don’t shoot scenarios on there, where the kids get to see, maybe in the background a building, or a parking lot or a road ... and whether they should or shouldn’t shoot that animal,” Walz explained.
“There’s learning situations, like, ‘Is the animal running?’ Maybe they don’t want to take that shot. It may not be broadside, they might want to wait ... It’s a good learning tool.”
Good learning tool or not, the instructional game appeared to be fun. The line for the chance to play was often long.
On display at the banquet was the DNR’s “Wall of Shame,” which features ill-gotten trophies that were seized from poachers. Marv Smith also displayed an impressive full-body grizzly mount.
Many in attendance were pleased with the banquet and what the NYDHC offers to young people.
“I think it’s one of the best things they could do for youth,” Dennis Rinehart said about the NYDHC.
Rinehart, proprietor of the American Institute of Taxidermy, donates his time and supplies to the NYDHC, offering antler mounts for successful youth hunters who enter bucks in the challenge.
Youth hunters received their mounted racks at Sunday’s banquet.
Rinehart said he’d like to see the idea of the youth challenge expand to other areas.
“I’ve talked to a couple other people in gun clubs in southern Wisconsin to try to get them to do something like this here. This should become ... a Whitetails Unlimited for youth nationwide,” Rinehart said.
The top four bucks overall received free head mounts courtesy of North Country Taxidermy. Bucks are scored by adding the number of antler points to inside antler spread.
The top buck overall was Levi Herrick’s big 10-pointer, which boasted and 18-3⁄8-inch inside spread for a total score of 28-3⁄8.
Alex Danielson took second, with a score of 26. His nice eight-pointer had an 18-inch inside spread.
In third place was Mason Holmquist, with a dandy nine-pointer that boasted a 16-3⁄8-inch inside spread. The fourth free head mount went to Jackson Doebler, who took an impressive eight-pointer with a 15-1⁄2-inch inside spread.
Topping the archery division was Doebler’s eight-pointer, with Aaron Kubisiak’s nice six-pointer with a 14-1⁄2-inch spread in the second spot. Ethan Metz’s eight-pointer rounded out the top three.
Isaac Lung took top honors in the mentor hunt division, bagging a beautiful eight-pointer with a 15-inch inside spread.
Jake Trapp took second place with a good seven-pointer. His buck had a 13-1⁄2-inch inside spread. Bret Benson’s nice 10-1⁄4-inch wide eight-pointer was third in the division.
Tyler Sauvola sat alone atop the muzzleloader division with a doe.
In addition to presenting awards, there were drawings for numerous outdoor-related prizes, including many firearms, tree stands, trail cams, grab bags of miscellaneous items and gift certificates.
All youth hunters were eligible for prizes whether they shot a deer or not.
The NYDHC was developed in 2004 with the purpose of keeping youth hunters interested in carrying the tradition of hunting into adulthood.
Oneida, Vilas and Iron county 12- to 17-year-olds are eligible to participate (18-year-olds are eligible if still in high school). Youth ages 10-11 who hunt under Wisconsin’s Hunting Mentorship Program can participate in the mentored hunt division.
Deer can be harvested from Vilas, Oneida, Iron, Price, Forest and Lincoln counties. Successful hunters register their deer and fill out a NYDHC entry form. This year, hunters could register at The Lakeland Times office or Kurt’s Island Sports Shop in Minocqua, and Dietz Phillips 66 in Manitowish Waters.
If interested in becoming a committee member, a mentor or a sponsor for the 10th annual NYDHC, call Gregg Walker or Heather Holmes at 715-356-5236.
More photos from the event will be published in an upcoming edition of The Lakeland Times.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.