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Bolster youth interest with outdoor education

November 2, 2016
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Although the annual New York big game hunting season is currently in full swing, there appears to be a distinct lack of both deer and hunters in the local woods.

Although I've seen a few whitetails, including an impressive buck that handcuffed me during the snowy season opener, reports of the take have been very slow to trickle in. A survey of regional big buck contests reveals some pretty slim pickings to date.

In Saranac Lake, the fabled Trudeau Big Buck Contest, one of the oldest such contests in the entire country, had only two entries as of Nov. 1, more than two weeks into the new season.

Article Photos

This hunter’s “drop camp” was established back in the woods, atop a large glacial erratic.
Photo — Joe Hackett

I wonder if the lack of entries is a reflection of the current whitetail population, smarter deer or dumber hunters. Even though hunting conditions have not been ideal - with a combination of warm weather and rainy days - one of the most obvious factors appears to be a defined lack of hunter interest.

While the arrival of a fresh tracking snow may serve to stir things up, it seems hunters haven't been getting out there in the usual numbers. There doesn't seem to be the same level of enthusiasm for the hunt.

I suppose the warmer than usual weather has damped the desire to hunt for many, however there were a few days with snow on the ground. Yet, the number of hunters I've encountered could be counted on one hand, with a few digits to spare.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't complain. I kind of like having the woods all to myself. It's tough enough to harvest a buck without having to deal with additional competition. However, I wouldn't mind seeing more youth out there. I actually worry about the future of the hunt, especially as the youth have largely failed to fill the boots of former sportsmen. Fortunately, a growing interest among female hunters continues to bring in many newcomers, which may serve to sustain the sport for awhile.

Big game hunting plays a multi-faceted role in New York State's ecological and economic profile. Not only is it important in controlling the overall size of the deer herd, it also generates substantial economic activity. In many rural communities, it also provides an important recreational outlet, especially for youth.

For many years, there's been a bill languishing in the state legislature that would make hunting and fishing education an optional component of the curriculum in all New York high school physical education programs. The bill, which has been before state lawmakers for more than a decade, was passed by the Senate, but it's never been presented in the Assembly.

If approved, the bill would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to work with the Department of Education on the development of a curriculum that could be offered as part of a unit on outdoor recreation in public school physical education programs. The proposed curriculum would include the various hunting and fishing seasons, and the history of hunting and fishing in the state's development.

Many public schools already offer a variety of approved outdoor recreation options that meet state standards. Some of the options include archery, yoga, mountain biking, nordic skiing, rock climbing, orienteering, angling and paddle sports. These activities are considered recreational "life skills," that can be enjoyed without the need for officials, playing fields or teammates.

While state legislators bandied the proposed legislation around, similar initiatives have already taken root elsewhere. In Oregon, the state Education Department has provided students with a unique Outdoor School for more than 50 years. The program was groundbreaking when it started, and since that time, more than a million children have enjoyed an annual rite of passage at campsites everywhere from the stormy Pacific coast to the towering evergreen forests and rugged high country deserts.

Nearly 90 percent of the state's sixth-graders have spent a week testing water samples, studying fungi and digging through topsoil. Unfortunately, only about half of Oregon's 11 and 12 year olds currently participate in the summer camp program, which is funded through a patchwork of grants, fundraising, parent fees and charitable donations.

The lack of funding has forced many school districts to scrap the program or whittle it down to just a few days over the years. However, a current statewide ballot initiative now wants the state to use lottery proceeds to guarantee a week of outdoor school for all children.

If Oregon's Measure 99 passes, it will provide the only dedicated outdoor education funding for students in public, charter, private and home schools.

In New York, the DEC provides a similar outdoor education program for teens at popular Summer Conservation Camps which include Lake Colby, Camp Rushford and at the Pack Forest in Warrensburg. The programs offer an Outdoor Adventure Week, with opportunities for participants to hone their outdoor skills in the areas of cast fishing, fly tying and fly fishing, target shooting, safe firearm handling, tracking, backcountry camping, archery, outdoor survival skills, plant identification, trapping, bird identification, outdoor photography, canoeing and kayaking.

Professionals from the NYSDEC, including conservation officers, forest rangers, fishing educators, sportsman educators and biologists are always on hand to assist with the classes and to discuss environmental careers. Campers will have numerous opportunities to learn outdoor skills through hands-on experiences in a safe and fun atmosphere.



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