Approximately 30 youth hunters, ages 12 to 16 from many areas across Northeast Pennsylvania, gathered Oct. 10 in Eastern Luzerne County to take part in an annual youth pheasant hunt designed to provide a multi-faceted, small-game hunting experience.
Northeastern Pennsylvania Pheasants Forever Chapter 803, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers make this hunt possible every year by creating an event where young hunters of different capabilities and experience levels have the opportunity to hunt behind well-trained sporting dogs, with experienced mentors, and in an excellent upland habitat. This is all accomplished in five hunting areas allowing multiple hunts to take place at the same time and with components of safety woven through the event.
“Over the last several years, there have been fewer young people involved in hunting and this is an excellent opportunity for the youth of our area with an interest in hunting to try something new and take part in an experience that they may not have otherwise had,” Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of Pheasants Forever Youth Program Chairman Corey Weisel said. “It is also a great opportunity for parents to learn more about different types of hunting and the outdoors and habitat and to help continue their child’s interest and involvement in future hunting opportunities. Bringing along the next generation is one of the most important things we can do and the volunteers who make this happen are the heart and soul of the day.”
Weisel said an event of this magnitude could not take place without the volunteers. There are at least 10 to 12 volunteers who help with registrations, stocking birds, coordination of hunts, safety and much more.
Ross Piazza, of Pheasants Forever Chapter 803, conducted a discussion on safety before the hunts.
“The most important part of the event is ensuring safety,” Piazza said. “With young hunters and their parents coming together from all over the area with sometimes very different levels of experience, it is important to make sure that we get everyone to a common ground in the very beginning with a focus on safe practices.”
Piazza, who also has experience with habitat improvement in the area where the youth hunt takes place each year, knows the importance of volunteers.
“In 1959, much of the topsoil in the area was used in the construction of the (Francis E. Walter Dam) and volunteers over the years have utilized funding through grants to create a habitat transformation by bringing in blended topsoil, planting warm season grasses and food plots, cutting brush and working on projects that have improved this area for pheasants and wildlife in general,” Piazza said.
Many also donate their time and bring their well-trained sporting dogs to assist the youth hunters during their time afield.
The youth hunt has between 10 to 12 dog handlers who bring their dogs that are trained in game-bird hunting. Breeds include Labrador Retrievers, German Short-Hair Pointers, Spaniels and a Deutsch Drahthaar.
“The ability for our youth hunters to be behind a dog while pheasant hunting and also in the company of an experienced dog handler/guide is often something new that many of our young hunters have not experienced before as this offers the ability to not only learn how the dog locates a bird and how it may be flushed, but what a safe shot opportunity might look like,” Weisel said.
“I really enjoy helping young hunters learn as much as they can about the sport and getting them involved so they can have the best possible experience is the reason I am so passionate about volunteering every year,” Laura Holena, a dog handler/guide who has volunteered at the youth hunt for the past 10 years, said. “I am fortunate to have some great dogs and enjoy sharing the resource with the many young hunters who attend each year.”
“I think it is fantastic for area youth to have the opportunity to get out and hunt with those who have a lot of experience with the dogs and pheasant hunting and with safety in mind and a respect for the outdoors also,” Dan Stella of Duryea and a parent of a youth hunter said.
“This is the first time I have hunted pheasants and the first time hunting anything other than deer,” youth hunter Domenic Stella, 12, said. “I had a great time at the hunt and have learned so much from everyone here who helped make this hunt possible. I can’t wait until I can go pheasant hunting again.”
For more information about youth pheasant hunting programs, visit the Northeastern Pennsylvania Pheasants Forever website at nepapf.org.