The twenty-four graduates of the 11th annual Heartland Chapter #491 Pheasant Forever's Youth Mentor Hunt

Twenty-four youths from Douglas and Sarpy counties, ranging in ages from twelve to sixteen participated in the 11th annual Heartland Chapter Pheasants Forever Youth Mentor Hunt, held at Pheasant Bonanza inTekamah, Nebraska on Saturday, October 1st.

The day began with an hour and a half drive north in the dark out of the Omaha metro area, through the Missouri River valley to Pheasant Bonanza in Tekamah, Nebraska.  Check-in was at 7:30 AM and we enjoyed a breakfast of muffins courtesy of the Farm House Cafe in Omaha.  During the check-in process, the kids picked up their hunting vests, which were theirs to keep, courtesy of Nebraska state Pheasants Forever.  They also were given blaze orange hats by our chapter.  The kids were allowed to bring their own 12 and 20 gauge shotguns, so we checked the guns for safety, marked them with the kids’ names and set them aside for when they were to be used.  The youths were then split into four groups of six kids each: Pheasants, Grouse, Quail and Partridge, who took turns at the four educational stations.

Checking in and suiting up for a day in the field

Heading to their stations

Firearm safety and trap shooting was led by Don Pleiss, firearms instructor for the Bellevue Police Department.  This was the first time shooting a shotgun for a number of the kids, so the number one order of business for Don was to sit the kids down and talk to them about the safe handling of firearms.  As all of the participants recently obtained their Nebraska Hunter’s Safety certification, this was review information for them, but important to have fresh in their minds with live ammunition in use.  Following the instruction, the kids were closely guided by Don and chapter member Ron Bell through shooting a few rounds of trap, in order to practice for the field.

Don Pleiss provides firearm safety instruction

Time at the trap range

A youth takes a trap shot under the guidance of Don Pleiss and Ron Bell

In the field were six guide/dog teams.  Guides/dog handlers were long-time chapter members: Charles Upchurch (Versatile Hunter), Gregg Limley, and Ron Funk, who worked individually with their dogs, while two-guide teams of Brian Jorgensen and Scott Jenson,  Mike Lund and Brett Lewis, as well as Jeff Scherzberg and Brad Quilty manned the three other fields.  Participant parents and chapter members shuttled kids down to the fields in golf carts (thank you parent Chris Gibbs, chapter member Brian Sivertson, youth hunt graduates Ryan and Noah Bell and community volunteer Alfredo Garza, among others, for driving).  Each youth hunted with one of the guide/dog teams for forty-five minutes.  Seventeen roosters were harvested, with a few of the kids taking doubles.  As to be expected with any hunt, not to mention first-time hunters, not everyone was able to make a shot.  Yet harvesting a rooster was not the important part of the day; learning how to be safe in the field and having fun with the sport was the emphasis.

Versatile Hunter Charles Upchurch guides a youth with his griffon, Sam

Guide Ron Funk gets a youth on to a bird. Photo by Brian Sivertson

Our lone female hunter watches a bird go out of range under the guidance of Scott Jenson. Photo by Todd Bell

Guide and chapter president Brian Jorgensen helps a youth show off a bird. Photo by Todd Bell

Following our second rotation through the educational stations, the kids and volunteers feasted on a lunch of hot dogs, baked beans, chips and soda that was prepared and presented by the Pheasant Bonanza staff and paid for by the chapter.

Once birds were harvested, community volunteer Bryan Petrzilka took over to teach the kids how to clean and cook the birds.  He gutted and skinned the birds, then cut them up, breaded them and fried up some pheasant tenders.  “You can make anything with pheasant that you can make with chicken,” he told them. Bryanalso brought a delicious pheasant salad spread that he had prepared at home to share with everyone, that he served with crackers.  His station became the go-to spot for a quick snack between meals.

Bryan Petrzilka cleans a bird as a youth looks on

Bryan shows the kids how to cook it up

The fourth station was archery, led by chapter member Gary Brollier, with the fine set of archery equipment secured by chapter member Mike Lund.  The kids had access to like-new youth model compound bows and six life-size 3-D models representing various animals, from deer to wild boar. Gary first provided a demonstration of how to position yourself to shoot, hold the bow, draw and fire.  They were then allowed to take aim themselves, individually and as a group.

Mentor Gary Brollier observes archery practice

Removing arrows from the 3-D targets

We broke camp around 3 PM, considering the day a success based on the feedback from both the youths and the parents.  Many of the kids asked, “Can I come back next year?” and we’ve received e-mails from parents asking the same.  The youth hunt program is absolutely free to those participating, thanks to chapter fundraising, with the primary fundraising event being the spring chapter banquet currently scheduled for March 31, 2012 at the Tangier Shrine, 84th and Center in Omaha.

Pheasants Forever, in partnership with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, started the youth mentor hunt program in 1996.  Since its inception, the program has introduced over 5000 youths statewide to the joys of hunting and habitat conservation.  There are 53 youth mentor hunts scheduled across Nebraska for the 2011-2012 hunting season.

Many thanks to the chapter members, community volunteers, parents and kids who participated in our special day!!  The continuation of the youth mentor hunt program ensures that “The Good Life” is passed on to future generations.

About the author: Versatile Hunter Charity Upchurch participated in the event as youth coordinator by contacting/organizing participants and heading up base camp logistics at the hunt.  She has been a “chapter wife” since 1999.  An abbreviated version of this article has been submitted to the Omaha World-Herald for potential publication in Saturday’s Community Connection section.  Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.