2016-09-15 / Outdoors

Youth hunt benefit: time together

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

EMMA TRAVIS shot her first deer during the 2014 Youth Hunt. EMMA TRAVIS shot her first deer during the 2014 Youth Hunt. Kids across the Leelanau Peninsula will get an early start Saturday on deer season starting a half hour before sunup.

But if that’s when the season begins for parents and children, they’ve already missed out on some fun.

“The youth hunt is a good thing, and we started two weeks ago planning on where to put our blind and spending quality time outside,” said Travis Nelson, who will be hunting on land his family owns in Centerville Township.

He’ll be sitting alongside his daughter Emma, who two years ago shot an antlerless deer in the youth hunt.

That provided a good lesson, according to Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist Steve Griffith. Young hunters up to the age of 16 can shoot bucks or does during the two-day youth season.

“They are just excited to be out there with a family member,” Griffith said. “We see as many antlerless deer as we do antlered bucks, so overall that’s a good lesson. What is success? Having fun, (having) an enjoyable deer hunt. It’s not necessarily how big that animal is.”

Griffith is anticipating a successful hunt for many youth, as well as adult disabled hunters participating in the “Liberty Hunt” and other hunters participating in a special anterless-only season. All three hunts, which allow the use of firearms, start Saturday morning and extend through Sunday evening. The archery deer season begins on Saturday, Oct. 1.

“I think deer numbers are going to be pretty good,” Griffith said. “Last winter, as far as severity, it was negligible. I don’t think the deer had any problems ... we have seen pretty good fawn production with twins and even a few triplets.”

His tip is to set up near preferred feeding areas. He’s observed good acorn crops in some woods, and wild apple trees are laden with fruit this year.

The main thing, though, is to get young people outdoors.

“One of our big goals is recruitment of young hunters and then retention of all hunters across the board ... it’s spreading the tradition to other family members and to other families. It’s really cool seeing the kids excited about getting outside,” Griffith said.

At 11, Emma Nelson is already an experienced hunter. She shot a doe during the youth season in 2014, and took a buck during the regular firearms season last November.

Travis Nelson a few years back organized young hunters and parents for the early hunt, lining up stands on nearby orchard lands with permission of farmers. That project got to be overwhelming, though, so now he concentrates on introducing Emma to the outdoors.

“What I remember most is the gathering of families, and the times they didn’t get a deer. But parents spent time with their kids, sometimes 12 to 16 hours together in a blind. Sometimes those parents who didn’t get a deer had the best experience,” Nelson said.

Nelson, too, believes deer numbers are up on his 300 acres and on adjoining properties.

“I think there are plenty of deer out there. I think the herd is pretty stable. But I don’t think everybody agrees with me. I think there’s deer hunters who would say there are less, and there’s another group that would say more,” he said.

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