About an hour north of Hibbing this weekend, six youngsters participated in Minnesota’s first statewide youth deer hunt, and in the process developed lifetime memories.
Clad in blaze orange, they sat in stands scanning for whitetails in early mornings and late afternoons, and in between walked forest trails, hunting grouse.
Come nightfall they sat around a campfire enjoying burgers, laughs and a clear North Woods night sky.
“The kids were thrilled about the youth hunt,” said Nancy Burkes, matriarch of the 600-acre, 14-stand camp that she and other family members started in 1998. Matriarch, that is, if you don’t count her mother, Shirley Glad, 85, who also was on site for the youth outing.
“Counting my grandkids, we have four generations here for the youth hunt,” said Burkes, who grew up in Hibbing and learned to hunt from her dad.
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) big game program leader Barbara Keller said the statewide youth deer idea received strong support in public meetings last spring. Open to youth ages 10 to 17, the four-day hunt coincides with the school break Minnesota kids typically are awarded over the long MEA (Minnesota Education Association) weekend.
Adults at least 18 years old must accompany kids ages 10-13 while hunting. The kids need licenses, but the adults don’t. Older youth can hunt on their own, but they must possess hunter safety certificates.
One advantage of the youth hunt, Burkes said, is the weather. Given its location in northern Minnesota, her family’s deer camp is often cold and covered with snow during Minnesota’s traditional November season.
“The kids were thrilled about the nicer weather, with no snow,” she said.
Kids who hunt this weekend in the special youth season can still hunt later this fall. But deer they kill in the youth season count against their annual statewide limit.
The special youth season is intended to encourage kids to try hunting under conditions likely to produce positive outings. As Burkes noted, the weather is typically better in October than in November. Additionally, the focus of adult mentors during the special hunt is exclusively on the youth participants, rather than on their own deer-slaying ambitions, as is often the case for adults during the November season.
But whether the statewide youth hunt helps develop enough hunters to replace baby boomers who are aging out of the field sports is another question.
Certainly, the new hunt has encouraged the early purchase of youth deer licenses, Keller said, citing data showing that 21,211 youth licenses were sold by the DNR just before this weekend’s four-day hunt, compared to about 12,000 licenses, on average, issued by the same date from 2014-2018.
Positive as well are youth deer license sales from 2003-2018, during which transactions nearly doubled. That said, youth deer license sales peaked in Minnesota in 2013, with 64,748 issues, before sliding, year by year, to the 56,989 sold last year.
Burkes said kids hunting this weekend in her family’s camp will return for the regular season. Hunting recruiting experts say this is important because the hunting experience, fully appreciated, encompasses more than the simple act of waylaying a deer or a bird. Spending time in nature with family and friends also is integral to “hunting,” and increases the likelihood the tradition will be passed from one generation to the next.
“We have two 10-year-old boys, Mikko Glad and Kaeleb Burkes, in camp this weekend, along with four teenage girls: Leah Bloomquist, 15, Emma Burkes, 14, Nicole Bloomquist, 17 and Ayva Burkes, 16,” Nancy Burkes said. “Each of the girls got a deer last year during the regular season.”
On Friday, Leah Bloomquist and Emma Burkes scored again.
Sitting in a stand with her dad, Al, Leah leveled her .300 Win Mag at a doe 100 yards from her stand. Similarly, Emma, hunting with her aunt Nicole Marinac and her dad, Rian, targeted a whitetail at 150 yards with her .243. Both connected, contrtibuting to the camp meat pole, while also making lifetime memories.