By Nick Simonson
So many big dates are on the horizon this time of year as we make the turn from summer into fall. The start of the school year, football kickoff, and of course, opening days across a wide variety of hunting seasons are among the big dates to consider. There are so many now that it makes it tough not to have the ink bleed through from one calendar page to the other from all the red Sharpie circles on the pages into November. For those looking to get the next generation into the outdoors, however, there’s a few squares that require some extra highlighting, and likely some local opportunities beyond those days in the season calendar devoted to youth and new hunters.
As part of an increasing drive to bring more hunters into the fold each season, agencies across the upper Midwest have secured over the past two decades dedicated weekends for young sportsmen and women to take part in a hunt that is all their own. In North Dakota, youth deer season and youth waterfowl weekend open within hours of one another (noon, Sept. 17 and Sept. 18, respectively) and not far down the road, the youth pheasant weekend happens on Oct. 2 and 3. In Minnesota, the dedicated youth waterfowl hunting weekend is Sept. 11 and 12, and the state’s Take a Kid Hunting weekend on Sept. 25 allows adult residents accompanied by a youth under age 16 to hunt small game without a license. The latter often serves as a focal point for the state’s mentored hunts for ruffed grouse in the north.
Beyond these special seasons and weekends designed to introduce young hunters to the experience of upland, deer and waterfowl hunting, many conservation groups have mentoring programs built into their fall calendars that help turn a once-a-year opportunity into a lifelong pursuit. At these events volunteers staff mentored hunts, learn-to-shoot programs, and other autumn activities to help new hunters acclimate quickly to what can sometimes be a challenging learning curve, providing gear such as decoys and blinds, access to good hunting spots, and fun opportunities built into the events such as trap shooting, bird processing tips and a chance to taste dishes made with wild game.
Finding these events may be a bit more challenging than just logging on to an agency’s website and checking out the autumn opening date calendar, however, and some may fall on these dedicated weekends and youth seasons, but others may not. A little sleuthing on the web and social media will likely be required to connect those interested in learning the ways of calling ducks, or watching how a dog works a field for upland game, with organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, and many local sportsman and conservation groups that host hunting events in the next month or two. Like any good hunting plan, begin preparing early and find an opportunity close by, as spots often fill up well ahead of the event. While most events are free, expect to have to provide a firearm and ammo for your young hunter, and it’s good to get some shooting practice in before the program starts, but not required.
With the stage set for fall and a number of weekends dedicated to young hunters, opportunities abound for them to try a variety of hunting techniques and pursuits in the coming weeks. Mark those calendars with the days allotted solely to them, so they can connect with birds and game on their own, but consider finding those local opportunities where mentors with decades of experience can share their wisdom and help advance them from the novice phase a little bit quicker. Through the combination of special seasons and special events for young hunters, there’s so much to look forward to not just in the circled boxes of this autumn calendar, but in the onboarding of new sportsmen and women, and securing the future of conservation for years to come…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: Finding a mentored hunt helps new sportsmen and women acclimate to the experience and develop a strong foundation for future endeavors. Simonson Photo.
Nick Simonson is the editor and lead writer for Dakota Edge Outdoors and skilled with a Sharpie.