High schooler Lorna Wright plans on being in a turkey blind this weekend, hunting gobblers with her dad and brother.
“I’m excited,’’ said Wright. “I really like turkey hunting.’’
Three years ago, Wright, 16, and her brother, Nathan, 15, took part in a mentored youth turkey hunt in southwestern Minnesota aimed at introducing kids to turkey hunting. The goal of the annual youth hunts is to recruit young hunters.
But Lorna and Nathan haven’t hunted turkeys since. High school sports and other activities made it difficult.
“Last year, we didn’t have a chance, we were busy all the time,’’ said Gerald Wright, their dad. “There were just a lot of things going on. They were disappointed.’’
I mentored Lorna at that youth hunt in 2010. Two other kids I mentored at youth turkey hunts in 2008 and 2009 also haven’t hunted gobblers since.
Which raises the question: Do Minnesota’s youth hunts — for turkey, waterfowl, deer and pheasants — work? Do they hook kids on hunting?
The answer: No one knows for certain.
“If I look at kids who went through youth programs five or six years ago, a high percentage of these kids are still purchasing hunting licenses of some type,’’ said Jay Johnson, Department of Natural Resources hunter recruitment and retention coordinator.
“But that doesn’t prove the youth hunt was the key factor,’’ Johnson added. “When people are surveyed, it’s always about the relationship with a parent or another family member who hunts that is far and away the most important factor [in becoming a hunter].’’
“Youth hunts” in the past occurred naturally.
“We’re trying to replicate that with a program,’’ he said. “We’re not sure that’s even possible.’’
A ‘home run’
The youth turkey hunts are sponsored by the DNR and the National Wild Turkey Federation. Tom Glines of Coon Rapids is an avid turkey hunter and senior regional director of the group. He believes the youth hunts accomplish their goal.
“I think it’s still a home run,’’ he said. “I’ve seen and heard the stories [of kids getting hooked on hunting]. The actual percentage of hunters we create, I don’t know. But I hear enough stories that it’s worth it to me, to the National Wild Turkey Federation and the volunteers.’’
Cheryl Riley is a believer, too.
“They are absolutely worthwhile,’’ said Riley, vice president of education and outreach for Pheasants Forever. “The last national survey showed an uptick in hunter numbers. As we become a more urban society, hunting is probably going to decline. But what if we do nothing? At least we are stemming the tide.’’
She said youth hunts are beneficial to Pheasants Forever chapters because the volunteers who conduct the outings feel they are making a difference by introducing kids to pheasant hunting.
But no one thinks the events, by themselves, will recruit kids to hunting. Too many other factors are involved.
Numbers down this year
Minnesota’s youth turkey hunt began in 2004 and pairs youngsters age 12 to 17 and a parent or guardian with a mentor. Twenty-nine kids partook the first year. Around 300 kids have participated in recent years.
This year’s hunt is this weekend, but only about 200 kids registered, said Mike Kurre, DNR mentoring program coordinator. He can’t explain the downturn.
“We may have hit a saturation point with that age,’’ he said. Or it could be because youths now can buy hunting licenses over the counter. Glines thinks a glitch in the DNR’s electronic application system this year might have caused the downturn.
Regardless, Kurre and Glines are committed to getting more kids involved next year. Meanwhile, parents usually rave about the youth turkey hunts.
“I thought it was really good,’’ said Gerald Wright, who accompanied his kids on last year’s youth hunt near Redwood Falls. “We enjoyed it a lot. It was well worth the time and effort.’’
Despite the difficulty in getting Lorna and Nathan out turkey hunting the past three years, he’s hoping to rekindle their interest this spring.
“I think it’s important for them to get out and do things outdoors and have fun,’’ he said.