Daddy/daughter deer hunting 'game on'

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Chris Verhoeve has received fair warning.

Come fall, his 13-year-old daughter Heather will be gunning for him.

Not specifically of course, and to be clear, not out of any disrespect or teenaged angst. In fact, her presence at the Long Point Waterfowl (LPW) Youth Hunting and Conservation Course (YHCC) is very much driven by anticipation of combining daddy-daughter time with enjoyment of Ontario’s outdoors.

“All of it,” she smiled Monday afternoon on the shore of a retriever trials pond near Turkey Point.

The YHCC is a six-day boarding camp hosted at the LPW research and education centre near Turkey Point featuring training and mentorship in hunting, wildlife conservation and management targetted to 12 to 16-year-old students.

“Hook ‘em young,” said camp firearms instructor Bill Blackburn, and coincidentally, President of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “Get that seed planted.”

Students have the opportunity to complete the Ontario Hunter Safety Certification, Canadian Firearms Certification and Ontario Wild Turkey Training Course. This may not be unique to Canada says Dr. Scott Petrie of LPW, but is he believes, to Ontario.

“I think it’s the only one where they can get all three in one place in the province.”

Bonuses to instruction, meals and accommodation included in the $450 registration fee include one-year memberships in Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Quality Deer Management and roughly $200 in sponsor giveaways.

“This is unbelievable,” credited guest instructor Jamie Higgins, Pro Staff GK (Giant Killer) Calls.

Higgins considers himself fortunate to have his early interest in waterfowling fostered by second, third and fourth-generation hunters. Contemporary youth may not have access to that kind of mentoring or hunting areas and further, are challenged by rules and regulations that make it harder to get started. The YHCC provides a form of one-stop shopping for potential young hunters than can only be a positive influence for the sport’s future, Higgins believes.

“In order to grow the lifestyle of hunting, I don’t call it a hobby, I call it a lifestyle, we need to give more kids the opportunity.”

The YHCC combines classroom instruction from top-notch instructors with hands-on safety training and field exercises including a trip to a shooting range, an identification and ethics tour onsite at the LPW facility, and Monday’s excursion featuring retriever demonstrations, a segment on goose decoy and blind placement and calling, the latter being particularly enjoyed by 14-year-old Kurtis Vandevrie of Hamilton.

An accomplished jazz and funk musician (drums, piano and trumpet) whose father Ken owns and operates a recording studio, Kurtis was discovering new tunes to his liking on donated GK goose and duck calls.

“It’s kind of the same,” assessed Vandevrie, finding his trumpet training coming in handy. “You have to use your lips and not puff your cheeks out.”

Vandevrie was connected to the course by his 60-year-old grandpa Charlie Balcomb of Charlotteville, who has been hunting ‘pretty much since he could carry a gun.’

“He’s a musician, so it’s hard to get him to change tracks,” Balcomb explained of what he considers the ‘great opportunity,’ afforded by hunting.

“I think every young kid should experience it, off the streets, out of their home, away from their video games, a little exercise and something different to do.”

Balcomb’s hook was the fact his grandson enjoyed shooting his guns, not to mention sharing in the harvest.

“He likes to eat the wild meat.”

“Might as well get some of my own,” added Vandevrie, who had particularly enjoyed the gun safety and handling portion of the YHCC, along with instructor stories.

“It’s a good course, I’ve learned a lot.”

Balcomb was operating strictly as an observer, but three parents, including Karen Irwin of Uxbridge (celebrating her 43rd birthday at the camp along with her 12-year-old son Justin) joined 30 kids as active participants.

“He’s loving it,” said Irwin, who ultimately foresees shared hunting opportunities for herself, husband Jim, Justin and eventually their nine-year-old son Jason as a family unit, or in other settings.

“Hunting camps seem like a real good team social environment.”

Although familiar with guns, Karen has never hunted, due to the fact she hadn’t completed the required courses, and had to turn down opportunities because she didn’t have the training.

“Now, it’s ‘count me in.’”

A natural magnet for the camp’s three female participants, Irwin was pleased to be able to quietly watch her son interacting with peers in a mixed educational/social setting she considered productive and positive.

“Fantastic,” she summed up. “I’d recommend it.

“This is an opportunity for any kid to get involved in, city or country, they make great friends and good contacts.”

Fourteen-year-old Neil VanZyl made the three-hour trip from Owen Sound, alerted to the camp’s presence by an email to the Sydenham Sportsmen’s Association, and attracted by the fact he could complete all three courses.

“This was the best opportunity,” said VanZyl, whose older brothers and father hunt.

Thirteen-year-old Sam Nunn of Simcoe’s immediate family members don’t, but he has been encouraged by an uncle and Dave Kennedy, one of the camp’s guest instructors.

“I’m learning a lot,” said Nunn, who beyond the opportunity to hunt, enjoys ecology and biology. “It’s always nice to be out in nature.”

Rebecca Sherman who lives just around the corner from Turkey Point, is looking forward to October, turning 12 and qualifying as an apprentice hunter to head out with her dad Jeff in search of “probably deer and ducks.”

The outgoing 11-year-old was far from intimidated by being in a female minority (“There’s two other girls here,”), but was clear on the fact hunting was a thing she did with her father, rather than mother Jenn.

“No, oh no, no, no,” she responded with a headshake.

“No, I am not, I like to fish,” confirmed Jenn Sherman, monitoring proceedings along with her mother-in-law Sandra, for whom Rebecca is the third grandchild (following cousins Samantha and Nick) to take the YHCC.

Jenn clarifies she would ‘never say never,’ to hunting, has three girlfriends who do, and very much supports her daughter’s and other youth participation.

“I think it’s good for any of the kids. It gives them respect for the outdoors and wildlife.”

Her mother-in-law echoed sentiments on the course’s inherent value, “even if they never pull a trigger on a gun.”

Urban youth in particular are separated from the natural world Sandra continued. “What do they see, the pavement?”

“This gives them an opportunity to get out and see what’s out there, what’s available to them,” Jenn concluded.

The nearby pond was giving a welcome opportunity for students to test hip-wading technique and then blow off a little steam after a couple of intensive days inside a classroom. But even amidst the chaos of front flips off the dock, an unscientific experiment on how many kids would fit into a duck boat and an irregular chorus of renegade duck and goose calls, LPW biologist and camp coordinator Ted Barney could see great future potential.

“We’ve got 30 very passionate youth for the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts,” he summed up. “These will be the guys and girls who make the rules, conserve the land and contribute the funds to help what we have stay wild and accessible.”

If there was one tiny downside to the broader exercise of, in Heather Verhoeve’s words, ‘learning about the outdoors while having fun,’ it is in the fact these young guns, may in fact be gunning for their top guns.

‘Getting her licences’ remains very much in Verhoeve’s sights, in order to hunt with her father Chris as an apprentice.

“Deer,” she clarified, “because that’s what my dad hunts.”

Familial connection notwithstanding, it will be ‘game on’ this fall. Four days into the course, Heather had clearly absorbed the timeless hunting tradition of one-upmanship: she won’t be looking for just any deer when the two head into the woods.

“Bigger than his,” she concluded with a smile.