First Duck Excites Youth Hunter
With steady rain beating us in the face, mentor and mentee awaited daylight. The conditions were right and large flocks of ducks were buzzing the marsh. As soon as the clock struck legal shooting time, a young hunter would have his first chance to hunt waterfowl.
I was proud to be asked by Lee Vogel, co-founder of the Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation (MHHF), to serve as a mentor and guide for a youth hunter at the annual MHHF waterfowl hunt just west of Truman Reservoir. The hunter I was paired with was 15 year-old Jerry Skinner from Clinton. His father, also named Jerry, joined us on the hunt. Both are pictured above.
The father and son duo are experienced deer and turkey hunters, but had never been on an organized duck hunt before. Jerry Jr. had never shot a duck, and his father hadn’t since he used to jump them off creeks over 20 years ago. To witness the two of them discovering a new passion, one that can be shared between them for the rest of their time together, was a moving experience that speaks to the power of introducing others to outdoor pursuits.
MHHF is a service organization that focuses on introducing youth to hunting, shooting sports and conservation. Mentors volunteer their time to educate and train youth on various hunting traditions.
“We know that youth enjoy the outdoors and hunting, because we see it in their smiles every time we host one of our clinics,” Vogel said. “But sadly, too many youth never have an opportunity to experience nature and hunting firsthand. MHHF exists to change that for as many youths as possible. To date, we have hosted nearly 500 youth hunters at our clinics, and we expect that number to continue to grow for years and years to come.”
Nasty weather is duck weather. No conditions are worse for duck hunting than calm days with bluebird skies. So with heavy rain, gusting winds and a dense overcast sky, I expected the duck hunting to be good. I was right. Ducks were everywhere. Thousands of them flew over the marsh and quite a few worked our decoys.
“This is amazing,” Jerry Jr. said, as a flock of ducks circled our spread. “I have never seen anything like this before.”
Then the ducks dropped into range and the young hunter fired three shots. All missed their mark. Hitting moving targets is a skill that takes some time to master, especially when you’re so excited you’re shaking like a leaf on a tree, as Jerry was. But the young hunter wouldn’t go home empty handed. A lone mallard hen came in flying low from the western horizon and Jerry Jr. took aim. With a single shot, he dropped her. I sent Willie, my labrador, on the retrieve. The father and son were amazed by the dog’s ability to sniff out a downed duck and retrieve it to our blind.
“I really liked watching all the ducks in the air, calling them in, shooting and how the dog worked. I really, really like duck hunting, and I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life,” Jerry Jr. said.
The feeling of passing on an outdoor tradition to another is hardly explainable. When the morning started I found myself in a blind with two strangers. By the time the shooting stopped, I felt like I had made two new friends. I just don’t know of a better way to develop such relationships than in the outdoors. We are blessed here in Missouri with so many diverse outdoor opportunities. Duck hunting is just one example. I hope you are able to introduce another person to the outdoors in the near future. As we are reminded each year during the holiday season, it is better to give than receive. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in a duck blind.
There’s still plenty of time to pursue ducks in Missouri this season. The state is divided into three zones: North, Middle and South. The North Zone closes December 29. The Middle Zone closes January 5. The South Zone closes January 24. For zone boundaries, please visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website at www.mdc.mo.gov.
See you down the trail…