Mariah Niewoonder of Greenville, age 14, is like a lot of kids and brutally honest. “Deer and turkey hunting are kind of slow,” she said. “You just sit there, and you have to be quiet all the time. Duck hunting is much more exciting, and you get to talk and move around.” Mariah and her dad, DNR Wildlife Division Southwest Field Operations Manager John Niewoonder, hunted public land in Ionia County. Mariah’s older brother shot his first duck in the same spot four years earlier.
The first group of birds came in just after shooting light, catching Mariah off guard. A few minutes later, a pair of wood ducks sailed over the decoys. Mariah got off a couple shots but missed. Then, about , a pair of wood ducks came in, and Mariah connected, dropping the bird in a dense stand of cattails.
Carter Knee of Ludington, age 9, was also a successful youth hunter this year. Carter hunted with his dad, Mark, wildlife technician at the Paris Field Office. The morning started with Carter pulling at his dad’s arm telling him, “Get up, it’s time to go hunting!” They grabbed their gear, gun and decoys and hit the road.
Like the Niewoonders, the Knees were hunting a small public-land pond. They had a few ducks buzz through the decoys in the dark. At legal shooting, wood ducks worked the decoys. Carter couldn't line up a shot and learned his first waterfowling lesson: “Dad, they are too fast and I can’t catch up!"
Next, four green-winged teal dropped in. Carter took a shot and missed. Then, a pair of wood ducks appeared. Carter dropped the drake, and it was hard to tell whether Carter or his dad was happier.
Benjamin Mason of Haslett, age 10, and his dad, Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason, hunted a pond on Rose Lake State Game Area. According to Russ, the ducks seemed a little skittish - perhaps a result of the early teal season. Yet the geese came right in, and Benjamin dropped one in a cloud of feathers.
Benjamin did a little victory dance and then fell in (never do a victory dance in the mud). On the way home, he was quiet. Russ asked him what was up, and Benjamin responded with something that made his dad proud: "I'm sad - that goose never did anything to us." Russ explained that feeling responsible was good and right - hunting and taking a life is serious business. Benjamin went on to pluck and clean the goose himself. He saved the feet (as mementos and as props to harass his sisters). He also saved the down so that he could make a pillow. It was a wonderful day.
Meeting Doug Reeves, Wildlife Division assistant chief, at at the Gratiot/Saginaw State Game Area was just the start of the awesome experience for first-time waterfowl hunter Liam Carter of St. Johns, age 12, son of Kelly – Wildlife Division Public Outreach Unit manager. Doug and Liam trekked into the darkness with decoys in tow, and Liam was nervous about taking his first shots. They put out decoys, and Doug called in some ducks. They had a wood duck buzz by a couple of times, but no shots were fired. A couple Canada geese hung low over the decoys, but Liam did not shoot.
Liam commented, “They are so fast; I can't even think about getting a shot off.” Then his luck started changing. Doug, ever the Zen master, said, "Liam, just shoot. Don't overthink, just shoot." And shoot he did. Three shots later, Liam had three ducks – two mallard hens and one green-winged teal. Liam said, “It was one of the best days of my life.”
The DNR hopes you take a youth hunting this fall. There are many hunting seasons to choose from and plenty of high-quality opportunities on public land. Hunter safety classes are also found throughout the state.