Each year, the Huntington Mills United Sportsmen Camp 271 teams up with the Pennsylvania Game Commission for a unique opportunity for youth hunters across the state.
This is a special hunting opportunity for juniors between 12 and 16 years of age, who have successfully completed a basic Hunter-Trapper Education course. Each year, sponsoring sportsmen's organizations from around the state host these events. Hunting licenses are not required, but participants must wear the necessary amount of fluorescent orange and be accompanied by an adult.
By Tom Vanesky
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HUNTINGTON MILLS — The sound of shots from a nearby hillside reminded the group that break time was over.
Youth hunters across the state hit the fields and brush patches for Saturday’s junior pheasant hunt. The Pennsylvania Game Commission program partners youth hunters with sportsmen’s organizations – the PGC supplies the pheasants, for a day of hunting that’s set aside just for kids.
The Huntington Mills United Sportsman’s Camp 271 has hosted 30 youth hunters annually for the last three years in what has become a tradition for the club.
Club member Nick Wagner, who is also the chairperson for the hunt, said while hunting pheasants is the main attraction for the kids, it isn’t the only activity of the day.
Before the hunt, club members give the youth hunters a safety talk at the clubhouse, and later in the day they showed the kids how to clean their birds, serve them lunch and take them out for a few rounds of claybird shooting.
“We just like giving back to the community and seeing youngsters simply get outside,” Wagner said. “They get a thrill out of it and they learn what safe, ethical hunting is all about.”
At 9 a.m., the youth hunters are divided into groups led by club members across a two-mile stretch of farm fields in Huntington Mills that have been stocked with pheasants. The PGC supplies two pheasants for every hunter signed up for the event, and the clubs handle the rest.
But the day isn’t limited to pheasants. A special rabbit season for junior hunters is also open on the same day as the youth pheasant hunt, giving the young hunters even more opportunity for action in the field.
Larry Mazurek, 14, of Plains, took advantage of the extra opportunity when he bagged a rabbit that was kicked out while his group walked through a brushy field looking for pheasants.
“It was really a thrill,” said Mazurek, who was participating in the hunt for the second year. “Last year I got my first pheasant and now I got my first rabbit. “It’s an awesome experience.”
The Huntington Mills club holds several events geared for children every year, and when the PGC began offering the youth pheasant hunts Wagner said it was an easy decision to get involved.
The 30 spots fill up quickly, he said, and children travel from as far away as Bucks County to participate in the hunt.
“We have a lot of youth hunters that return year after year and they enjoy it because it’s a very interactive, hands-on experience,” Wagner said. “For the club members, we just get a thrill seeing the smile on a kid’s face when they pick up the first pheasant they shot. It’s a great opportunity.”
Charlie Monko, 14, travels from Allentown to participate in the hunt each year. Monko has been hunting since he was 12 and he shot his first pheasant two years ago.
“You see the teamwork that goes into hunting like this and the club members teach you a lot of new things,” he said. “If I had more fields and places to go where I live, I would definitely like to hunt pheasants and small game more.”
While the hunt creates memories that will last a lifetime, the morning safety meeting teaches lessons that ensures those memories will be positive.
Peyton Perchansky, 13, of McAdoo, bagged a pheasant during the morning hunt and said safety is always on his mind when in the field.
“They teach you how to walk in a line while going across the field, boundaries and gun safety and you are aware of that when you’re hunting,” he said.
For Mazurek, he appreciates the safety lessons from the experienced club members.
“You don’t want to shoot a bird that flushes behind you because that’s not safe,” he said. “It’s good that they teach us about safety before we go out.”
Once the hunt concludes and the kids have lunch back at the clubhouse, Wagner said club members will take any of the youth hunters who want to hit the fields again in the afternoon.
While the kids are the only ones allowed to hunt on the day, Wagner said being a part of the event is fulfilling.
“This is way better than if I were the one doing the hunting,” he said. “I’d rather see a youth hunter doing the shooting, getting their first pheasant, than me.”
It’s a feeling that some of the youth hunters hope to pass on one day.
“The club members are amazing for taking the time to do this, and I’d like to keep hunting and maybe do this when I have kids one day,” Perchansky said.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky