For many youngsters, the first lesson in hunting comes from accompanying their father or some other family member into the field in search of wild game, but not all youth are so fortunate. Some children come from families where hunting isn't an annual tradition, and for them, learning about the shooting sports can be as elusive as the animals they hope to one day stalk.
Fortunately for these youngsters, two local organizations -- the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of Safari Club International (SCI) and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Hunter Education Program -- have joined forces to give them the knowledge, equipment and opportunity to literally take a shot at bagging a game bird and hunting a wild hare.
"I want to give kids an opportunity to see what hunting is all about," said Larry Lewis, one of the coordinators for the Skilak Loop Youth Hunt, which began Nov. 1 and will take place each weekend through the end of December.
Lewis knows firsthand the value of mentoring. His father died before he was born, but he had a next-door neighbor that took him under his wing and gave him his start in the shooting sports, which have now become a way of life for the avid hunter.
"Even if the kids don't like it, at least they can see what hunting is all about and make more informed decisions about it as they get older," Lewis said.
Youth 16 years of age and younger (minimum age of 10) are invited to participate in the organized small game hunting experience. Children are paired with adult Hunter Education certified mentors who escort the youths for a day of hunting in the Skilak Management Area, part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge that is usually rife with small game.
"Also, now is a good time of year for hunting small game. There's not much snow and it's not too cold yet," Lewis said.
Under the direct supervision of the mentors, youngster are provided with all the tools they need -- such as either a .22 rifle or a .410 shotgun, and the ammunition -- and the training to use them safely and successfully.
"It's a broad overview. They get instructions on the regulations, safety techniques, ethical values, and they learn how to identify legal game, harvest it and field dress it," Lewis said.
Fish and Game's Hunter Education Program will also supply orange vests, hearing and eye protection, and children will be provided with transportation and lunch.
"Parents and guardians are welcome to participate," Lewis said.
And, at least a few of the children signed up for this coming weekend will be accompanied by their parents.
"I wanted to show him there's more to life than video games," said Joe Hutchinson, who will be accompanying his 11-year-old son Hunter.
Hutchinson said he grew up hunting and fishing in Louisiana, and wants his son to know the same joys he did from these experiences, but the outdoor life in Alaska is a lot different than that of the southern U.S.
"We just moved up here nine months ago and so I'm hoping we'll both learn about the wildlife and the environment, and from the people who live here," Hutchinson said
Jerry Chivers of Kenai said she will also be accompanying her 12-year-old son Dain, if not this weekend, then definitely the next.
"He's very excited about it. He wants to be an avid hunter and we're not, but my husband and I are hoping to get back into it," she said.
Chivers said her son has already started practicing for this weekend, in the hopes of bettering his chances of bagging game.
"We've already done gun safety with him, and he's done target practice and things like that, so he's really looking forward to this weekend. He's already planning rabbit stew for next week," she said.
Following this weekend's event, Lewis said participating youth will be encouraged to sign up for an upcoming Hunter Education certification class, if not already certified, and together they make a great package for young, would-be hunters
"They're a great learning opportunity for area youth interested in Alaska's hunting heritage," he said.
For more information about the Skilak Loop Youth Hunt, or to sign up a youngster, call Larry Lewis at 262-9368 or 262-1370.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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