Exposing young hunters to field experiences ensures the future of outdoors pursuits

As many of my 67 semi-regular readers already know, I am a big supporter of getting our youngsters into sport hunting and fishing. They are, after all, the life’s blood of our outdoor heritage. 

So when I hear about a young person going on a successful “first” hunt I like to spread that story in this column. And this past week such a story came in.

Rob Walsh of Ionia is one proud father. He wrote to tell me about his “middle” son (he has three sons). It seems Aaron Walsh, who is 13, completed the Hunter Safety Training Course in early April. And on April 23, the second day of the Youth Turkey Hunt, they went after a wild Tom turkey in the Town of Bloomfield.

They arrived early and got into position. Some time later, shortly after 9 a.m., a hen turkey came into their setup. Rob was busy watching her, but his position behind a big cottonwood tree prevented him from seeing a big Tom that also came in from another direction. But Aaron saw it, and he fired a single shot from his Mossberg Bantam 20 gauge shotgun. It was perfect, and that Tom was his.

Boy, was that lad ever excited! He told Rob that his heart went from 0 to 60 as soon as he saw the bird. And it was truly a trophy, too. The turkey weighed 25 pounds! 

And Rob also had a few important points to pass along to Aaron. One was “that managing that feeling of excitement/adrenaline will be the key to success for future hunts, and when he feels it to recognize it and understand the task at hand.” That is incredibly important advice because, by controlling the excitement of any hunting situation the risks of an accident are greatly reduced if not eliminated.

Here is some more from Rob. “What got to me was how excited he was, and he continues to talk about the feelings he had when the Tom showed up. He was so excited, and when he was able to harvest the bird I was so proud of him!”

Rob also continues to talk to Aaron about gun safety and that no game is worth risking an accident. That is a critically important lesson for Aaron and every youngster to learn, remember and practice. All three of Rob’s sons have lifetime hunting licenses, and all of them have been taught the importance of respecting the right to hunt and the safe handling of firearms. He feels that all kids should have that opportunity.

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It’s that time of year once again. Spring is at hand, and wild birds and animals are busy nesting, procreating their species and rearing young. And, as in past years, some soft-hearted and well-intentioned humans will no doubt be finding young birds and animals and, thinking them to be orphaned or abandoned, take them home to be cared for.

The reality is that most of those wild babies are not abandoned by their mother or parents.  They have simply been discovered by a human. Mamma probably knows exactly were junior is, and may even be watching from nearby cover as the human picks it up and takes it away with them. Humans, in their desire to help the helpless, may actually be destroying an animal “family.”

The hardest part to understand is that the foundling will probably face more danger in the hands of humans than if it were left where it was found. All humans who do not have the appropriate licenses are prohibited from possessing and caring for many wild animals and birds by state and federal laws, and with good reason. There are many good reasons for such laws.

First of all, no human can give a wild animal better care than its natural parents. With mammals there is no substitute for mothers milk, which often contains unique nutrients and antibodies for that species. And, the parent animals can spend all of the time necessary to teach it how to survive. Humans rarely can devote 24 hours a day to the care and feeding of a wild baby, and what could they possibly teach it?

Disease is another important factor to consider. Wild animals can be exposed to all sorts of diseases and parasites, including rabies. This insidious disease, while less noticeable now than several years ago, is still common throughout the entire Finger Lakes region. And, any mammal can be exposed to it. 

To my knowledge there has been only one human who has become infected with rabies and not received immediate treatment with vaccines and that has survived the infection. It is virtually always fatal, and can easily be spread to other family members along the way.

Fawns are the source of another problem. First, most “orphaned” or “abandoned” fawns are neither orphaned or abandoned. It is more than likely they have a mama, and she knows where they are. The very best thing anyone can do for fawns they might find is simply to walk quietly away and leave them alone.

Few wild baby animals that are raised by humans can be successfully released to the wild. They often think they are human, and approach any humans they might see. At the same time they probably don’t know how to live in the wild -- how to feed, and how to avoid predators. And all too often these wildlife babies can end up as family pets, which is a violation of existing law.

All bird species, with four exceptions, are protected by federal or state laws. No individuals can possess them unless they first have a federal and state license permitting them to do so. Fines for illegal possession can range up to $500 per bird, although a fine of $250 per bird is more common. There is also a possible jail sentence of six months for such possession.

The only humane thing to do when wild baby mammals or birds are observed is to leave them alone. They probably are not abandoned. The parents are almost always nearby. 

If you should find a wild baby animal and you are absolutely certain it has been orphaned, you are allowed to render aid. The safest thing you can do is notify your local conservation officer.  These dedicated individuals have been trained in how to safely handle wildlife of all sizes.  

Do not, under any circumstances, touch any wild animal, regardless of its age. If the mother animal is dead, how did she die? If she was hit by a car, was she infected with some terrible disease before being hit? If she died of unknown causes, the danger flag should be raised even higher.

The chances are pretty good that any disease or parasite she had was passed on to her off-spring. If you touch them you could be bringing tragedy home to your own family.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at lisenbee@frontiernet .net.