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Florida Youth Hunt: More than Taking a Shot
[St. Cloud, FL–] For three 12-year-old boys, hunting means something different to each. For Daniel Minks, it’s a chance to spend time with his dad and maybe harvest a deer or pig. For Zach Warnack, it’s the possibility of bringing home meat and a trophy. For Evan Wetzel, it’s fun to sit in a blind and watch bucks and does that are unaware of his presence.
The three were among nine youngsters aged 12 to 17 who spent three days in the wild, scenic woods of Lee Ranch in central Florida’s Osceola County recently for a youth-only hunt organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The commission’s Youth Hunting program has introduced thousands of Florida children and teens to the fun and learning opportunities of spending time outdoors. The program relies on the generosity of private landowners like Lee Ranch owner Harris Hill and volunteers who conduct target practice, prepare meals and lead the hunts.
Bobby Hensel, a Central Florida hunting and fishing guide, served as huntmaster for the outing.
“Almost all the kids have never hunted,” Hensel said. “We’re trying to get them more familiar, teach them a few things so when they leave here, they can hunt on their own.”
Each young hunter was accompanied by a parent– several of whom also had never hunted before.
“Get them out of the house and quit playing video games,” said Mike Warnack, Zach’s father. “We like to get out camping and stuff. We like to fish, so we thought we’d try hunting.”
Before the kids went to their deer blinds, they had to pass a state hunter safety course and then be qualified on the gun range by hitting a paper plate at varying distances. Hensel used a life-sized deer target to demonstrate the necessity of taking a broadside shot. Between shooting practice and hunts, all guns were kept unloaded in a storage room, and all participants were required to wear a blaze-orange vest while in camp, on the range, or in the blind.
Nobody slept much the night before the opening hunt; everyone was up for breakfast by 4:15 a.m.
By 4:30, the young hunters, their parents and their hunting guides were headed to their blinds– camouflage pop-up tents strategically placed where the guides had previously spotted deer and far enough apart that none of the hunting parties would interfere with one another. Everyone was ready in his or her blind before the legal shooting time of 6:15 a.m.
For Daniel Minks and his dad Dave, it was a slow morning. They never even saw a deer. But Daniel took it in stride.
“I like when I get something and spend time with him,” Daniel said of his dad. “But there’s times like when we saw a bobcat trying to sneak up on some deer, crawling along the ground on its belly. It was probably the coolest thing I ever saw.”
For the Warnacks, the hunt was very exciting. Zach took a shot at an eight-point buck with his rifle from about 110 yards away, but missed. Father and son were eager to try again in the afternoon.
“I think we’ve got a better-than-even chance,” Mike Warnack said. “We’ve seen a lot of good signs.”
Evan Wetzel and his dad Toby encountered two bucks, including an eight-pointer. But both ran off without ever coming within range. They also spied seven wild turkeys.
“It was fun. I enjoyed it. It was exciting,” Evan said. “It’s fun to go out there and see the bucks and the does.”
Though several hunters found targets, no one harvested anything on opening morning. Hensel told them not to be discouraged.
“If you shot every time you went, it wouldn’t be fun,” he said. “It’s the hard that makes it fun.”
The next two hunts were slightly more productive, with a teen girl bagging a doe and a younger boy taking a small buck. The guides showed the hunters how to dress the deer, and everyone got involved.
“It was a good time to be together,” Toby Wetzel said of spending time in the woods with his son.
The Youth Hunting program will put on a hunt Jan. 6-8 in Okeechobee County. The deadline to register is Dec. 4. To sign up, go to IHuntFlorida.com or call 850-413-0084.