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Recent entries


Through the Lens

Whiteouts and Waterfowl

Wed, December 15, 2010

Although the weather was frightful, with whiteout driving conditions, dangerously cold temps and wind chills,plus blowing, drifting snow;  none of that impacted the enthusiasm of the determined youth hunters and celebrities attending the Annual DownRiver Outdoors Celebrity Youth Waterfowl Hunt December 12th and 13th.

Event organizer Scott Huschle

As sunrise Sunday revealed the extent of the weather issues the event organizer Scott Huschle began making phone calls checking with sponsors, parents, and celebrities. All agreed – they could not disappoint the 10 young hunters who had won spots in a blind with outdoor and sports celebrities.  “ Go slow and be careful G “ Scott cautioned me.  “If you’re late no one will mind. We just want everyone to get here safe.”  And so my journey began Sunday morning.  I like to think I’m intrepid soul, but I have to admit after the first 50 or so miles creeping along in almost constant whiteout conditions I had to wonder if I was committed, or needed to be committed.

I fretted about the brutal cold and the young hunters that were traveling from throughout the state to hunt with at Keck’s Marsh with some of the best outdoor celebrities around.  I wondered if it was going to be safe for the kids. I sought ideas from other “mother hen” waterfowling women during my frequent stops to clear my windshield and wipers.  I fretted a little more.

I kept my nerves at bay while I was driving by trying to think of indoor activities and programs we could present to the young hunters if the dangerous cold prevented them from heading out to hunt Monday morning.

Seems I wasn’t the only one.  “Even if Monday’s brutal cold kept us from going out to hunt, I was hurriedly throwing together some inside programs and activities that we could do with the youngsters” said IDNR Director Marc Miller.  “If those young folks and their parents were willing to brave the elements, and difficult travel conditions, I was too.”

I think everyone could agree agreed that the driving conditions ranged from horrible to brutal, each celebrity and sponsor echoed the importance of following through on a commitment and making sure the youngsters were not disappointed.

Celebrity hunter Alli Armstrong with her younger sister Adriana

At the dinner and program held Sunday evening at the hosting hunt club, Keck’s Marsh in Vandalia, Illinois, the celebrity speakers all incorporated the weather conditions and difficult travel into lessons for the youth about the importance of honoring commitments. The speakers shifted the focus of their talks with the youngsters to focus on the various aspects of hunting that do not include killing, as given the weather it was anticipated that there would be few ducks and geese moving and few opportunities for the youngsters to shoot.

Celebrity hunter Lauren Thomas of Carlyle, a host on Scent Blocker Most Wanted TV, who is also a teacher, spoke with the youngsters about the importance of education and working hard at school. She explained to the young listeners about classes that can help lead to careers in the outdoors, and how doing well in a variety of subjects can help to enhance their time in the outdoors and hunting. 

“Hunting is about much more than killing something” Five time World Goose Calling Champion Tim Grounds explained to the young folks, “it’s about conservation, learning about the outdoors, enjoying the company of other hunters.  The killing is only a small part of the whole experience.”  Grounds shared stories from his early days hunting,  and gave the youngsters great lessons about calling and safe gun use in and out of the blind.  “Remember,” he cautioned, “It’s just a bird.. and no duck or goose or any game is worth an injury or possibly killing someone.”

Each celebrity who spoke during the Sunday evening program in turn emphasized the importance of safety, ethics, and following all game laws. The speakers focused on the importance of conservation efforts to insure that hunting opportunities and wildlife remain available throughout the youngsters’ lifetimes. 

Outdoor journalist Curt Hicken shared with the raptly listening youngsters the importance of having an adult mentor, and how in years to come the lessons learned from those adults who take the time to go out of doors with them will build a strong foundation for the young hunters to someday be adult mentors themselves.

Director Miller introduced the group to the writings of Aldo Leopold,  often considered the father of modern conservation efforts,  telling the young hunters “When you are faced with a hard decision in the outdoors, stop and ask yourself,  What would Aldo do? “ 

Thanks to the generosity of sponsors such as Curt Smith’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s , Avery Outdoors, DownRiver Outdoors, and Winchester the youth were suitably outfitted in warm waterfowl clothing, and raring to go before dawn Monday morning.  Event organizers and the staff of Keck’s Marsh decided that although the youngsters were anxious to get to the blinds before dawn it was much safer to hold the group indoors for a few extra cups of hot cocoa and an extra plateful of hot breakfast. Once the sun rose and the temps also began to rise, the youngsters were racing out the door, many to experience waterfowl hunting for the first time.

Sadly, as was expected the birds weren’t flying, and the water was frozen over, locked up tight. But the intrepid youngsters forged ahead exploring the superb habitat that Keck’s Marsh supports, and gaining insight into the aspects of hunting that enjoyable whether or not a single shot is ever fired.

The lack of birds didn’t dampen the spirits of the youngsters one bit. Upon returning to the lodge for a warm lunch, celebrity hunter John Mabry, former Cardinals ball player grinned, “Those kids had a blast… no ducks, but oh my – we talked about everything under the sun, they played on the snow and ice, practiced their duck calling, and learned that even if you never fire a shot, there’s lots of things about hunting to enjoy.”

That sentiment was echoed by each group as they return to lodge.  The youngsters excitedly chattered about everything related to waterfowl, conservation, and all agreed that yes, it was cold but it was so much fun! The adults marveled at the hardiness of the young hunters and how they seemed to actually tolerate the bitter cold far better than most of the adults.

Following a hot hearty lunch and more photos, story telling and sharing,  at the lodge, the children headed home, still chattering away about how to call in birds, what makes good waterfowl habitat, and a better understanding of all aspects of hunting in general.

I think it’s safe to say a few new waterfowlers were born this weekend thanks to all the sponsors, mentors, celebrities and others who worked so hard to give those youngsters a look into the world of waterfowl hunting.




Time to Fill The Science Bucket

Fri, December 03, 2010

Who doesn’t love it when a little guy looks at you with big blue eyes and says “Pleeeease.. Can we go to the woods? I have to fill my science bucket.”  At the preschool my little pal Restin attends they have science bucket on Fridays. Each young student gets a turn to take the science bucket home and fill it with nifty things for show and tell and Science Friday. It was no surprise to me that Restin chose things from the woods.  He’s been going to the woods since he was an infant tucked into a snugly under his father’s jacket.  Even though he’s only 3 – “ I am almost 4!Stop saying I am 3!”  -  he’s already becoming knowledgeable about the outdoors.

Restin and his woods companion Nanook off in search of treasures

As we got ready to head out in search of things for his bucket, he reminded me that we have to wear orange because it’s hunting season and we didn’t want to end up “shot in the butt - We can’t look like deer!”  Over the fence in into his personal playground of oaks and hickories we went. Again he reminded me to “be careful..These things on the fence will stick you and hurt” referring to the barbed wire.

The next sticky thing we had to navigate was the briar patch – “Be very careful. Step on them to make them lay down or they will scratch you up and hurt you.  Gretchen- you are going to get hurt by them! Don’t grab that with your hand” he admonished me when I grabbed a handful of wild rose to help him collect rose hips.  He proudly explained to his Nana when we returned home that the rose hips “are for tea when you have a cold. They have lots of vitamin C!”

Nanook and Restin can “hurry up the mountain” but this old gal was in amble mode

It wasn’t long before he was urging me to hurry up “the mountain”. Hurrying up the mountain is a feat far easier for three year old legs than 49 year old legs.  Thankfully there was no one hunting that piece of woods, because his demonstration of coyote, owl, turkey and wolf calling would have sent every wild creature running for the hills.  But the woods Gods were smiling and after a little work on his owl call we did get one to answer!

Nanook doing a little calling of her own to bring her young charge back into range

There were mushrooms; turkey tails, artist polypores, old chicken of the woods - “You can’t eat these now..see they are yucky and have black spots. They have to be orange like my hat!”  -  All tumbled into his bucket.

Next came the feathers…turkey, pheasant, blue jay, red tail, and harrier – along with a lesson on why each bird’s feather was different and why the birds required different types of feathers.  We talked about why it’s important to be friends with a CPO, and when and why we call the CPO to report finding treasures like the skull and antlers that his dog Nanook graciously brought to us.

The skull that Nanook was thoughtful enough to share

There were nuts, pecans, walnuts, acorns and hickory – in all stages. Restin knows that squirrels like the nuts, and the deer love to eat acorns.  “But not the hats on the acorns. They must taste bad because nothing ever eats them up”
We poked in the snake holes and decided they were hibernating for winter, “But they will come out and get warm in the sun.”
There were Christmas ferns, lichens and moss “Look it’s like a whole teeny forest with baby trees” he exclaimed as he was nose to nose with a large patch of moss on the creek bank.
Soon we were wearing out and it was time to head to the house and catalog his treasures, bones, skulls, teeth, feathers, mushrooms, a wasp nest – so many great things to take to show his classmates. When his uncle and adopted grandpa stopped by to see how the foray went he had so many things to spread out on the floor and explain, so many little things that are treasures to my young outdoorsman, not only now but hopefully forever.


Sometimes You Have to Wait

Sun, November 21, 2010

When nine year old Lainey Deterding of New Athens told her mother and hunting partner Renee that she was going to get a buck, she was dead serious. Despite the heavy fog and slightly inclement weather Saturday morning Lainey headed out like a trooper. While Lainey had hunted small game with her mother, father and brother, and passed her Hunter Safety Course when she was a mere 7, this was the first year that Lainey took to the stand as gun hunter. Lainey is no stranger to the outdoors; it’s something that her whole family enjoys.  She has been accompanying her parents and older brother on hunting excursions and time in the woods scouting, checking trail cameras and just enjoying their time afield together. Her parents, Dean and Renee Deterding, feel strongly that frequent exposure to the outdoors and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing help teach young people about safety, responsibility, ethics, conservation and more. The Deterdings also feel that their children are physically healthier as a result of an active, healthy lifestyle that goes hand in hand with a love of the outdoors.

A cheerful, articulate, and well spoken young lady, Lainey shared the story of her successful first time out with me.  First a doe came in under the stand.  Lainey recalled, “When Mom said there’s a doe, I said no I don’t want a doe. I want a buck.”  With more resolve and self control than many adults could have displayed, she waited.

Because Lainey has spent a great deal of time in the outdoors and because she had been accompanying her family on previous years deer hunts, Lainey knew that a buck would likely not be far behind. “We were right over a scrape you see…”  In an almost studious manner Lainey shared with me her knowledge of deer behavior, as she reveled in telling the story of her morning. Her patience was rewarded when the large fellow came into view “I told Mom,” Lainey grinned as she thought about when she first caught sight of the buck, “I’ll shoot that!” Once again Lainey waited as the buck worked his way into an acceptable shooting range.

After waiting what seemed like an eternity the buck was on the scrape 30 yards from Lainey.  Confident that the buck was in a place that she could make a good clean shot, Lainey successfully harvested her first Illinois Whitetail.  The buck ran approximately twenty yards and disappeared into the dense fog that had rolled in. So Lainey waited yet once again for 45 minutes, still in her stand in hopes that the deer would not travel far. Because the fog had gotten so dense, neither Lainey nor her mother wanted to risk spooking the big boy and sending him deeper into the fog. “So we waited, and waited, and it seemed like 2 years,” sighed Lainey.

At last Lainey was able to hop down from her stand and find her deer just where she was sure she’d heard him fall.
“There’s one on the wall at my house just about like this, but I think mine’s bigger “Lainey giggled.