As a group of young hunters made their way across a field outside of Weiser on Saturday afternoon it was hard to tell who was having the most fun.
Was it the dogs, who were leaping back and forth across the open area, flushing out pheasants?
Was it the young hunters, some of whom were getting their first chance at taking down a pheasant with a shotgun?
Or was it the parents and mentors who followed the action in front of them, making sure everyone stayed safe?
Let’s just say there were smiles all around.
“What better way to spend the weekend than walking a field with kids?” said Rich Chambers, a member of Treasure Valley Pheasants Forever (TVPF).
Chambers and some 40 others in the hunting organization volunteered to help with the Fifth Annual Treasure Valley Pheasants Forever Youth Hunt that took place Saturday and Sunday. The event coincided with the beginning of the youth pheasant season, which opens a weekend earlier than the adult season. Idaho Fish and Game also provides early youth hunts for waterfowl and turkeys — letting kids take a shot at game when they’re easier to locate and when adults aren’t distracted by their own hunts.
“This is a big deal for us,” Chambers said. “We’ll start preparing for next year this next week.”
On Saturday, two groups of boys from 10 to 14 years old (with a few exceptions) were ushered out to the field after spending the previous few hours learning about the responsibilities that go with hunting. Another two groups went out Sunday.
“Rule No. 1 is safety,” Chambers said. “Rule No. 2 is safety. Rule No. 3 is safety.”
The event has generated a waiting list each year. And while the kids show up in droves for the event, they are outnumbered by volunteers such as Chambers, who has been a member of TVPF for five years.
“I got involved because of what we’re doing right here, coming out for the kids,” Chambers said, relaying a sentiment that was echoed by other volunteers throughout the day.
“What do kids do these days?” Chambers asks. “They sit in a house and play video games. What are they doing right now?”
As he speaks, a shotgun blasts in the field nearby.
“Right there. That’s why we do this,” Chamber said. “That kid will have a grin from ear to ear, and it will never go away. They learn about safety, and they learn how to hunt, they learn how to work with dogs. And we hope they continue hunting.”
CARRYING ON A TRADITION
Bill Cafferty is the president of Treasure Valley Pheasants Forever. He’s been involved with the organization for almost 15 years.
“There’s a lot of guys, just like me, who had the opportunity to do something like this when they were younger,” Cafferty said.
He remembers his first hunting experience with fondness.
“I think I was 12, and we were over by Twin Falls,” Cafferty said. “I had a single-shot 20 gauge, so you had to make your shot count. I remember we were walking through the fields for about 20 minutes when a bird got up right under my feet. I about had a heart attack. By the time I got my composure and pulled up and shot I missed my first opportunity. But then I got another one, and I was hooked.”
Matt Tucker watched his two sons, Trace and Tim, get hooked a year ago when they participated in the youth hunt.
“We live in Emmett, and the whole way home last year they were talking about what an amazing time they had, the dogs, the mentors,” Tucker said. “So, we begged to come back, and then we started a countdown when it was 60 days until pheasant hunting. Then 40 days until pheasant hunting. It’s like Christmas for them.”
Tucker and his sons said the second year was every bit as rewarding as the first.
“We’ve done a little hunting on our own since last year, but this setting is unlike any other,” he said. “You can take kids out, and it’s just about them, and they’re hunting over dogs. It’s just different than if it was just me taking them out.”
Every boy in Trace and Tim’s group had success in the field, too (three girls participated in the event Sunday).
“We were halfway through, and Trace and Tim each had at least one bird,” Tucker said. “So, when we saw a dog pointing I said, ‘Get another kid in here who hasn’t shot one.’ And they all yelled that everyone had got one.”
Trace, 12, was still beaming a half-hour later as he and Tim, 15, posed for pictures with the five birds they downed between the two of them.
“I’ve shot eight pheasants in my life, and five of them have been here,” Trace said. “We all looked forward to it. It’s just really fun.”
Hearing stories like the Tuckers’ is what keeps Treasure Valley Pheasants Forever thriving, said John Cooper, a member of the TVPF executive committee.
“Our belief as a chapter is that if we don’t promote the outdoors and hunting to the kids of today, then tomorrow there won’t be a sport,” Cooper said. “So, our whole goal for the last 10 years has really been driving towards youth.”
It’s easy to see why the organization’s efforts continue to draw kids. Proceeds from an annual banquet and donations from members funded a plethora of goodies that each kid took home in a reusable shopping bag.
Every participant left the event with an orange hunting vest, T-shirt, magazine, hat, whistle, shooting glasses, ear plugs and snacks.
And, of course, each boy also left with a smile.
“The kids had a blast,” Cooper said.