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  • By Ken Perrotte

Grow Next Generation of Conservationists

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Hunting mentorship

Kaylie Cook, age 10, shoots her muzzleloader. Kaylie had a shot at a deer

but unfortunately missed, according to her day Michael

Note: This article originally appeared Nov. 29 in my column in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star daily newspaper.

THE MENTORS who helped guide my generation into the outdoors are rapidly fading away. Several friends and friends’ parents who were dedicated sportsmen and women died this year.

Pete Lysher, a reader of this column, recently shared with me that his dad Leon, who lived at Potomac Landing in King George, passed away at age 89. Like many of his generation, the outdoors was part of his being. “Dad's passion was rock fishing and taking his grandchildren with him,” Pete wrote. “Dad made his own bucktail lures using deer hair.” The elder Lysher also loved to hunt and successfully tagged a couple bucks in 2017 before aggressive cancer invaded his body.

His pre-Thanksgiving note prompted reflection, contemplating this cycle of life and mourning the loss of another avid outdoorsman. Then, last Saturday, I got to experience the sense of renewal that comes with seeing youngsters enthusiastically embrace their own futures as America’s next conservationists.

I dropped in on the annual youth hunt at Bruce Lee’s Kinloch Farm in Essex County. There, about a dozen kids and their parents or grandparents gathered to spend an afternoon of deer hunting. The hunt is sponsored by the Fredericksburg-Northern Neck chapter of the Virginia Deer Hunters Association.

It usually includes kids who recently completed their Hunter Education courses or are apprentices wanting to experience hunting.

This year’s group had participants hailing from Powhatan to Stafford. A couple of the kids, including 13-year-old Madison Long and 14-year-old Courtney Sanders, have current and past affiliations with the Outdoors Club at King George Middle School. Mark Fike, a middle school teacher and club founder and leader, was at the hunt, coaching youngsters on shooting skills, helping reload muzzleloaders and and sitting with one child in a deer blind as the afternoon progressed.

At least one-third of the youngsters were girls. They performed well, winning two of the top three spots in

hunting mentorship

the friendly marksmanship contest the kids have before hitting the deer stands. Shooting a Savage model 220, rifled-barrel, 20-gauge slug gun, Sanders won the competition with a pair of bullseyes.

Saturday’s weather was miserable, worsening as the day wore on. As the wind picked up and the rain poured down, several of us wondered if any hunter would even see a deer. Luckily, a couple kids made perfect shots when the opportunity arose and tagged their first deer.

Fike, the Deer Hunters Association volunteers and other groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and 4-H Shooting are working to help youngsters not only understand but, more importantly, become active participants in conservation’s future. It’s an important mission. Support for legal, ethical hunting remains high in the United States, but we need youngsters and apprentice hunters to help spread the conservation message.

It’s critical that hunters conduct themselves in a best-foot-forward manner because, in this nation of 326 million, 11.5 million hunt. That’s just 3.5 percent. But, as a 2016 report by Mark Damian Duda, Marty Jones and Tom Beppler of Responsive Management, points out, hunters are paying for conservation in this country. "In 2013, the most recent year for which complete data are available, hunters spent about $821 million on licenses and permits and almost $813 million in excise taxes for a total financial contribution of around $1.65 billion to wildlife conservation.”

I’ve also seen some analysis that shows adding anglers and trappers to the mix brings you to 6 percent of the population. When you look at their contributions via license sales, equipment purchases and more, some calculate that this small group of Americans is paying for, roughly, 80 percent of all the conservation work in the United States. This includes game and nongame species.

Many states and the federal government are wrestling with how to ensure the rest of the populace, the people who purport to love wildlife watching, for example, can better contribute to make the situation more equitable. In the interim, when you’re with someone not tuned into how conservation is currently paid for in America and you hear them delight in seeing deer or turkeys in a field, tell them, “Thank a hunter.”

Hunting mentorship
Madison Long of King George, Virginia, fires her muzzleloader.

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