The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Young hunters, veterans call Pheasants Forever events successful


For The Sun-Telegraph

For some area hunters passing on the tradition and giving back to veterans are just as important as bagging a bird.

The local chapter of Pheasants Forever, a national grassroots, nonprofit organization devoted to conservation and habitat preservation held two free hunts earlier this month, one for local kids and another for Nebraska veterans.

First time pheasant hunter Morley Haley, 14, of Leyton High School said the youth hunt was a success.

"It went pretty good," he said. "I got one of two pheasants that I could have."

Haley's favorite part of the hunt was working with the hunting dogs.

"It was cool to watch them work and find the pheasants," Haley said.

Some of the kids, ages 12-15 had been hunting before, but for many the Youth Mentor Hunt is their first experience with the pastime said local chapter president Brad Lines.

Pheasants Forever took the kids participating in this year's youth hunt to Prairie Springs, located between Dalton and Gurley, owned by Bryan and Theresa Reimers who allow the group to use their property for the activity.

"Without them we wouldn't be able to actually do the hunt," Lines said. "Even though we appreciate everybody that helps, they're probably the two that do the most for putting this on."

As an employee at Cabela's, Lines has strong ties to the hunting lifestyle, he added.

"Basically what we're doing, is we're trying to invest in our future, from a hunting standpoint and trying to preserve the heritage of pheasant hunting," Lines said.

The youth hunt, an annual event for the past 12 years, usually turns out around a dozen kids, but this year's festivities saw a large increase.

In the hunt earlier this month, 17 youths participated with a 90 percent bird harvest success rate. This means that 15 of the 17 kids shot and killed a pheasant, while all of them officially graduated the program.

"It went great," Lines said. "We had our largest attendance ever."

Pheasants Forever obtains the list of kids who had graduated from state hunter safety courses and invited all those in the area who have the training to participate in the hunt. This year's event turned out additional volunteers to help with the hunt as well. Around 45 people volunteered to help with the 2013 event.

"I think it comes out to 2.6 adults per youth, which is great because you need all the help you can get," Lines said.

The kids attending came from Bridgeport, Chappell and Sidney.

"We kind of reach out to the surrounding communities," Lines said.

At the beginning of the youth hunt, all participants go through about an hour of hunter safety and gun safety training.

"If there's one thing that we want to teach the youth is that hunting's a serious matter and that gun safety is our number one priority," Lines said.

After that the kids received a course on Nebraska state game laws. A hunting dog training seminar followed this, as well as a shotgun shell reloading station. Participants also learned about pheasant habitat. The actual shooting began with clay pigeons followed by an in-the-field pheasant hunt. All the kids had a chance to make some shots, said Sandi Bybee, local chapter treasurer.

"The opportunity was there, it's just you win some, you lose some," Bybee said. "Which is kind of a good thing to teach the kids because you don't always get to go out and get something."

Lines agreed with Bybee.

"Success in the field isn't always measured by harvesting a bird," Lines said.

Cheyenne County Sheriff John Jenson is always involved in the hunt and brings some Cheyenne County deputies to assist.

"He's a huge help for the organization," Lines said.

As part of the hunt, the group gave away a Remington 20 Gauge shotgun in the name of Joe Dickinson. Dickinson was a recently deceased local. The group presented the gun to one of the graduates of the Youth Mentor Hunt on behalf of Dickinson's family.

Although the Pheasants Forever youth hunt has been going on for many years now, 2013 was the first year for the wounded warriors hunt. This hunt took place in collaboration with U.S. Warriors Outdoors. Five veterans from Nebraska and Colorado participated in the event.

"These vets could be from any military generation," Lines said. "So we had Vietnam vets all the way to vets of Iraqi Freedom."

Some of the local veterans participating were avid hunters and some were novices to pheasant hunting.

"It's the right thing to do for the vets," Lines said. "They've put everything on the line for our freedom and the least we can do is support them by showing them our appreciation by having them out for a hunt."

The wounded warriors hunt went well, Lines added.

"I know they had a great time because there were smiles everywhere for the full event," Lines said.

Karl Mecklenburg, former Denver Broncos football player helped out with the wounded warrior hunt.

"Last weekend's hunting event with U.S. Warriors Outdoors brought together my passion for hunting and my respect and admiration for those who have served our country in the armed services," Mecklenburg said in an email.

The wounded warrior hunt took place at a controlled shooting area near Prairie Springs.

The local chapter of Pheasants Forever holds one banquet every year on the first Friday in March at the fair grounds. This is the group's only source of funding. Last year's was the largest attended banquet yet.

"Any profits made from that funds any habitat projects we do through the year," Lines said.

All revenue generated at the local banquet stays within Cheyenne County.

The group plants trees, works with the Conservation Reserve Program and develops food plots to help animals get through the winter. All this work is in effort to improve the condition of wildlife habitats in the Panhandle. The group doesn't limit its conservation work to assist pheasants specifically but includes deer, antelope and other wildlife in its projects as well. A portion of the money raised at the banquet goes toward the yearly youth mentor hunt.

There are around 250 members in the Cheyenne County chapter of Pheasants Forever. The state of Nebraska has one of the highest membership rates for the group and Cheyenne County has one of the larger chapters in the state, Lines said.

There are more than 100,000 national members of Pheasants and Quail Forever, and more than 10,000 in Nebraska alone. The national organization has spent more than $34 million on habitats and education since 1986 and has conserved more than 8.5 million acres in that time as well.


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