In deer hunting years I am 24 seasons old, as another came to an end just recently. It was a good year that brought with it some challenges, some successes and a whole bunch of memories. Thanks to our partners at the Crane Trust, Inc. near Wood River, I got to end it in the best way imaginable – at the Last Chance Youth Deer Camp.
This was the second year for this event, which takes place on the final full weekend of the antlerless deer season. And just like the name implies, it allows a small group of youth the opportunity to take part in a full-blown, deer-centered camp. During the weekend the youth hunter and their parent are paired with an experienced deer hunter or two to learn some of the skills needed to be successful. And the youth find out that success includes more than just pulling the trigger.
This year, six lucky youth attended the deer camp, four who had never taken a deer, and three who had never hunted deer. This translated into several excited hunters rolling in on Friday evening. Even with the prep work of setting up camp, introductions, strategy talk and selecting hunting sites, many of the hunters found it hard to fall asleep that night.
There might have been a weary-eyed adult or two at breakfast the next morning, which started just after 5 a.m., but the young hunters were ready to go. A few of them even admitted to seeing deer in their dreams during the short night. Everyone was decked out in blaze orange, and the anticipation was reaching record levels as pancakes and eggs disappeared and the final safety debriefing was given.
I remember my first deer hunt. I can still travel back to it in my memory to feel the cold wind, hear the running river and smell the woods where it all took place. I sat in a blind of sorts made of three pieces of plywood. There was no roof, floor or back wall, but to a young deer hunter it was a grand hide that held the chance for the grandest adventure of all – seeing a deer.
I was able to relive some of this as I got to share a Saturday morning blind with Lance Woitaszewski and his mother, Anne Bohan, from Wood River. I have no doubt Lance is a hunter after just the one hunt. He would scan the hunting area as if he were part hawk, only getting distracted when hunting was the topic of conversation. He barely acknowledged his mother or me when talk turned to his two girlfriends or the time he chased down a pig with his sister in a standing cornfield.
It was no surprise that he was the one who first spotted the doe standing just 50 yards away or the buck he called to within 30 yards with his new-found skill with a bleat call. The doe somehow survived its encounter with Lance, something many deer won’t be able to brag about when they meet Lance in the seasons to come.
I will admit that part of the reason I participate in these hunts is for me. I get to relive my first hunts through the excitement of a new hunter. Another part is the chance to give back. I hope to pass on the love, respect and tradition for the hunt and everything it means to our model of conservation. Is it working? With eagle-eyed Lance it is. He’s prepping for spring turkey now.