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From Backyards to Backwoods: Classrooms aid youth hunting education

Weeks ago this buck exchanged his summer velvet for polished antlers. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

Today will dawn to the brilliance of orange throughout the surrounding woodlands. The leaves have been replaced by fluorescent-clad hunters who have been thinking about this day and planning for it since the first hints of autumn. Some of them didn't even sleep last night because their minds were filled with questions like, "Have I forgotten anything or is my stand in the right spot?"

Their motivation and justification for spraying themselves with cover scents or deer scent and stumbling through the woods an hour before the eastern sky begins to lighten can be summed up in a single word -"anticipation." It's the same reason I'll be sitting in a tree this morning.

Over the years I've written several hunting stories for the annual edition of the Jack Pine Savage, and although this week's column is about deer, it isn't recounting any particular hunting adventure. Instead, I'm going to tell you about one of the valuable partnerships that has helped connect our students to their natural world.

In the 1990s our local chapter of Minnesota Deer Hunters donated a Large Mammal Learning Trunk to the Middle School. It contained curriculum materials and activities for the black bear, moose, timber wolf, and white-tail deer.

As science teachers we went through it and decided on a species for our individual grade levels. The fifth grade chose the timber wolf and the sixth grade took the white-tail deer. It was a good choice. Most sixth graders are eleven or twelve years old, which is the age required for taking hunter education classes.

Youth need that certificate to purchase a deer license. To some of you, that might seem like the school is in the business of promoting hunting. Actually, the school is in the business of promoting education and some of that education deals with Minnesota wildlife. The decision to hunt or not to hunt is a personal choice, and in many cases, a family tradition.

The study of white-tail deer in sixth grade included information on the habits, family life, food choices throughout the seasons, habitat requirements and limiting factors. Antler growth was discussed, a video on deer was shown, and a presentation was given by Tom Stursa, of our DNR wildlife office.

The hunting season affects all of us in some way. On the positive side, it provides an economic boost to area businesses, it offers the opportunity to learn a great deal about nature, and it brings families and friends together for bonding, the re-telling of exaggerated hunting stories, and laughter. On the negative side are those who choose to ignore safety and disregard trespassing signs and game laws.

Let's hope that during this season, the positives outweigh the negatives. If you are hunting, be sure of your target and everything that's in your line of fire. If you're not hunting, wear orange while outside and consider keeping your pets close by. It takes all of us to make this a safe and successful season.

If you have questions or comments, you can contact me at