Mild weather and a learning opportunity greeted 26 youths from Western Colorado on Saturday, Dec. 1, as staff and volunteers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife led an organized pheasant hunt at West Rifle Creek State Wildlife Area.
Guided step-by-step, every young hunter went home with a pheasant, new skills and a new appreciation for hunting and outdoor recreation.
Offered through Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Hunter Outreach Program, organized hunts teach young and inexperienced hunters the necessary skills, traditions and ethics of hunting so they can participate safely and play a role in managing Colorado's wildlife.
"Our mentors are very knowledgeable people, and these kids learned everything from the proper way to carry a shotgun to how to field dress their game," said Brian Gray, district wildlife manager in Rifle. "Now that they know how, they will likely enjoy hunting for the rest of their lives, perhaps passing the tradition on to their children, too."
The youths all recently earned their hunter safety card, and staff and volunteers re-emphasized many of the lessons from their hunter education class. The young hunters also practiced shooting clay pigeons, proper spacing when hunting in a group, and the importance of shooting zones. A portion of the day's education focused on the critical role hunters play in wildlife management.
Although a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey indicates an increase in the number of people participating in hunting and fishing across the country, many previous years of participation decline continues to present a challenge to wildlife officials. In Colorado, the number of hunters in the state has not kept up with the overall growth in the population. In response, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has developed an active recruitment program that includes sponsored hunts.
One limiting factor for many novices has been a lack of mentorship. In an effort to reverse the trend, hunter outreach program volunteers provide the one-on-one guidance critical for a novice's enjoyable and successful outdoors experience.
Recruiting new hunters and anglers is valuable for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, because the agency receives no general fund tax revenue. Instead, it relies on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and parks passes to maintain more than 900 species and 42 state parks. Without that revenue, many of the things the agency does to protect Colorado's wildlife and parks would be far more challenging.
"We have a varied and abundant wildlife resource in Colorado," said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. "The more young people who become interested in hunting and fishing, the more successful we will be in protecting this valuable resource for our future generations."
Gray noted there are several organized hunts offered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife throughout the year, including youth-only hunts, women's-only hunts and various hunting and fishing clinics and seminars.
"We strongly encourage anyone who wants to learn to hunt or fish to take advantage of these opportunities, starting with a hunter education class," said Gray. "These hunts are a lot of fun, and participants learn an important life skill, too."